How to Communicate with a Difficult Boss

Published: Mar 06, 2018 By

difficult boss

Have you ever been berated in a meeting by your manager in front of your peers?  Maybe you just experienced another episode of your boss yelling at you in the research lab.  Perhaps you’ve been blamed in an email for something that wasn’t your fault, so your manager could avoid any scrutiny.

Do you have a hard time communicating with your boss or supervisor?  Having a difficult boss is a reality for many professionals and can be extremely stressful on a daily basis.  Dealing with others who have a lack of concern, offer poor instruction, are hostile or manipulative can weigh you down.  If you dread meeting with, calling, or emailing your boss, think about how this affects your energy and work output.  It can feel draining and limit your growth within a company. 

Most people with experience in the working world have had their fair share of difficult bosses, unstable managers, and toxic work environments. If you are going through any of this, know that you are not alone.  It’s still possible to get a promotion, learn new skills and maximize your role even if your manager is less than effective.  Here are a few keys to communication when dealing with a difficult boss!

Prepare Yourself

Having a clear idea what you want to say or accomplish can go a long way when dealing with a difficult boss.  It can help reduce your stress level by eliminating some uncertainty.  If you are planning to have an important conversation with your manager, try making a list of the key points you want to say prior to speaking with them.  You could take it a step further and script out exactly what you want to say at certain points in the discussion.  I’ve worked with clients to rehearse asking for a raise, inquiring about promotions, and just putting their thoughts out on the table with others. 

Respond Don’t React

It’s vital that you stay calm during exchanges with your superiors.  Most situations are not worth jeopardizing your reputation or position of employment.  Take a few deep breaths before meeting with a hard to deal with person and don’t attempt a conversation when you are emotional.  There are some people who thrive on manipulating others, so make note of your energy prior to engaging with someone like that.   The goal is to respond to what is being said, not to have an emotional reaction to it.  When working with those who are hard to get along with, remind yourself what your goal is so you can address that before ending the discussion.

Listen Actively

Your difficult boss might have a point to what they’re saying, even if their delivery, intention, or style is off-putting.  You are in a career to learn and develop for your next opportunity, so keep an open mind.  At the same time, you don’t have to accept what your manager is saying about you if it is hurtful or untrue.  Listen actively and if there is a major disconnect between what they are saying and what you think, it could be time to consider finding another position or environment.  You can be cordial while having a difference of opinion.  Take in information to know where they are coming from, so that you can address it.   

Communication is really about you and how you choose to receive information.  No one else can make you uncomfortable or hurt your feelings without you making the choice to buy in to what is being said.  It is natural to have feelings of anxiety and self-doubt if you have a difficult boss.  Focus on preparing yourself before the conversation, responding not reacting, and actively listening to your boss during a discussion. 

How would doing this change your communication with others who are hard to deal with?   

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