7 Types of Difficult Bosses and How to Deal With Them

Heart and brain on scale

Pictured: Heart and brain on a scale/Taylor Tieden for BioSpace

What makes working with difficult bosses so tough, potentially driving employees to issues including trouble sleeping, burnout and quiet quitting? They have very little control, said Travis Bradberry, Ph.D., an emotional intelligence expert with a dual doctorate in clinical and industrial-organizational psychology. 

“Unless you’re going to leave your job, you’re stuck with this person,” he told BioSpace

To deal with a difficult boss, Bradberry recommended using emotional intelligence, also known as EQ. He defined EQ as how well you understand emotions in yourself and others and how you use that information to manage your behavior to reach effective outcomes.  

When it comes to difficult bosses, he said, “It’s all about establishing boundaries and taking a different approach that involves understanding who you’re dealing with, what you’re in control of and what you can do to improve the situation.” 

Neutralizing the 7 Types of Difficult Bosses

Bradberry shared there are seven types of difficult bosses—and ways to neutralize them.  

“Once you understand what makes this person tick, what drives them to do what they do, you can connect with them in a different way,” he said. “You can sort of objectively remove yourself from the situation and give them what they want. And when you're no longer as emotionally invested in it and confused by them, your stress level goes way down, and they become much easier to deal with.” 

Bradberry’s seven types of difficult bosses and tips for neutralizing them appear in his book “Emotional Intelligence Habits.” He shared that section of text with BioSpace. Below is a summary of his insights. 

1. The tyrant

Tyrants resort to Machiavellian tactics and make decisions that feed their ego. Their primary concern is maintaining power, and they’ll coerce and intimidate others to do so. They classify people and treat them accordingly. For example, high achievers who challenge their thinking are treated as mutinous. 

To neutralize a tyrant, present your ideas in a way that allows them to take partial credit. They can then maintain their ego without having to shut down your suggestion. It’s also important to choose your battles wisely. If you practice self-awareness and manage your emotions, you can rationally choose which battles are worth fighting and which ones you should let go.  

2. The micromanager

Micromanagers make employees feel as if they’re under constant surveillance. They pay too much attention to small details, and their constant hovering makes their direct reports feel discouraged, frustrated and even uncomfortable. 

To neutralize a micromanager, be flexible, competent and disciplined while staying in constant communication. This type of boss is drawn to employees who produce work the way they envision, so your challenge is grasping the “envisioned way.” To do this, ask specific questions about your projects, check in frequently and look for trends in the micromanager’s feedback.  

3. The inappropriate buddy

Inappropriate buddies are too friendly, and not in the fun, team-building way. They constantly invite their direct reports to hang out outside of work and engage in unnecessary office gossip. They also choose favorites and create divisions among employees.  

To neutralize an inappropriate buddy, set firm boundaries. Don’t allow their position to intimidate you. By consciously and proactively establishing a boundary, you can take control of the situation. For example, you can remain friendly with your boss throughout the day but say no to drinks after work. Maintain consistency with your boundaries, even if your manager is persistent.  

4. The incompetent

The incompetents were promoted hastily or hired haphazardly and hold a position beyond their capabilities. Most likely, they’re not completely incompetent, but the people reporting to them have been at the company a lot longer and have information and skills they lack. 

To neutralize an incompetent, it’s important to swallow your pride and share your experience and knowledge without rubbing it in their face. By sharing information that they need to grow into their role, you’ll become their ally and confidant. 

5. The robot

Robots make decisions based on numbers, and when they’re forced to reach a conclusion without the proper data, they self-destruct. They make little or no effort to connect with employees. 

To neutralize a robot, speak their language. When you have an idea, use data to back it up. The same goes with your performance. Know what they value, and show your value to them. Once you’ve accomplished this, you can find ways to connect without being pushy or rude. For example, schedule face-to-face meetings and respond to some of their emails by knocking on their door.  

6. The seagull

Seagulls interact with employees only when there’s a fire to put out. Instead of taking time to get the facts straight and work alongside their team on a viable solution, they deposit steaming piles of formulaic advice and then abruptly take off, leaving their direct reports to clean up the mess.  

To neutralize a seagull, a group approach works best. If you can get the entire team to sit down with your boss and explain that their abrupt style of solving problems makes it difficult for everyone to perform at their best, this message will likely be heard. After receiving constructive, nonthreatening feedback, the seagull will often find a better way to work with your team.  

7. The visionary

Visionaries’ strength lies in their ideas and innovations, not in implementing plans or solutions. When it’s time to execute their vision, they’re already off onto the next idea, leaving their direct reports to figure things out on their own. 

To neutralize a visionary, reverse their train of thought. They naturally take a broad perspective, so funnel things down into something smaller and more practical. Ask a lot of specific questions that force them to rationally approach the issue and consider potential obstacles to executing their ideas. Focus their attention on what it will take to realistically implement their plan.  

Dealing With Difficult Bosses: Wrapup

When it comes to dealing with difficult bosses, Bradberry said the first step is understanding the type of boss you have, as understanding shifts your perspective. 

“And once your perspective shifts, you can then change your behavior and approach the situation from a completely different angle that typically is a lot less stressful and a lot more effective,” he said. 

Angela Gabriel is content manager, life sciences careers, at BioSpace. You can reach her at angela.gabriel@biospace.com and follow her on LinkedIn

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