NLC President, Abdulwaheed Omar
By Linda Eroke
In various places of work, employees are confronted with the challenge of having to deal with difficult bosses.
At one point or another in building a career, employees will have to deal with a boss that can turn their lives into a living nightmare. There are some bosses who are downright bullies and put you in a no-win situation such that no matter what you do, you cannot satisfy them.
This sometimes creates conflict between you and your boss and can be daunting and intimidating. Those that find themselves in this kind of situation oftentimes live in perpetual fear and exhibit low self-esteem.
You may wonder why most bosses are usually difficult. In his write-up on how to deal with a difficult boss, an expert in conflict resolution, Tristan Loo, explains why supervisors are bossy and sometimes difficult.
According to him, “the role of a supervisor sometimes attracts certain controlling-type personalities because they crave the power it gives them and because they lack such control in their own personal lives.
“A supervisor has complete control over your most basic human needs, your ability to put food on the table and a roof over your head. These are powerful motivating factors that allow a difficult supervisor to control people out of fear of losing these basic needs. We may not be able to always correct their behavior, but we should never have to live in fear and let our difficult boss control our lives,” he stated.
Loo is an experienced negotiator and an expert in conflict resolution. He uses his law enforcement experience to train others in the principles of defusing conflict and reaching agreements.
Also, Ronald Riggio (Ph.D), a scholar in Cutting-Edge Leadership highlights four different strategies to use in dealing with a difficult boss. He suggests that an employee should be proactive by approaching the situation with a positive mental attitude. This, he said can be achievable when we display confidence and stay poised. According to him, if your boss is a bully, this will show that you are not intimidated by the bullying behavior.
So, how can employees deal with a difficult boss? Of course quitting the job may be an option but probably not a realistic one. If you are frustrated with working with a difficult boss, here are some tips put together by Loo to handle a difficult situation.
Never react to verbal abuse or harsh criticism with emotion: This will always get you into more trouble than you started with because it will become a war between egos, and chances are good that your boss has a bigger ego than you have, hence why he is difficult in the first place.
When a personal attack is made on you, they are trying to bait you into reacting emotionally because once you react, you become an easy target for additional attacks. The key then is not to react, but to acknowledge and move on. By doing this, you effectively strip all of the power behind their verbal attacks away from your abusive boss, without creating conflict.
If your boss happens to be an intimidator or a control freak, then the best way of dealing with their behaviour is to remain calm and acknowledge their power by saying, "You're right, I'm sorry." By saying this, you take away any chance of them lashing back at you because you have sidestepped their verbal attack rather than meeting it head on.
Discuss rather than confront: When your boss criticises you, do not react out of emotion and become confrontational with them about it because that just breeds more conflict. Instead, use their criticism as a topic for discussion on interests, goals, and problem-solving and ask them for their advice.
If they criticize your work, then that means that they have their own idea on how that work should be done, so ask them for their advice on how your work can be improved.
Manage the manager: A source of conflict usually occurs when a group of employees gets a new manager who demands that things run differently. These changes are usually reactionary in nature because the employees go about their regular duties until the manager comes by and criticizes the way it is being done.
Instead of waiting for their criticism, take a proactive approach and be absolutely clear from the very beginning on how your boss wants things to be done so that there is no miscommunication later on.
There are many ways of completing a task and having a discussion about them at the very beginning will allow you to see things from their perspective as well as sharing your own with them. Get to know their likes and dislikes inside and out so that you can avoid future criticisms.
Know that you can do little to change them: Being a difficult person is part of their personality and therefore it is a very difficult, if not impossible thing to change in a supervisor, so do not think that you can change how they act. Instead, change the way that you view their behaviour.
Don’t label them as being a jerk--just merely label them as your boss. By avoiding derogatory labeling, you avoid making it easy on yourself to be angry with your boss
Keep your professional face on: Know the difference between not liking your boss and not being professional. You do not have to make your boss your friend or even like your boss as a person, but you do have to remain professional and get the job done and carry out their instructions dutifully as a subordinate, just as you would expect them to be professional as do their duties as a supervisor.
Evaluate your own performance: Before you go attacking your boss, examine your own performance and ask yourself if you are doing everything right. Get opinions from other coworkers about your performance and see if there is any warrant to the criticisms of your supervisor before you criticize their opinions.
Gather additional support: If others share in your concern, then you have the power of numbers behind you to give you additional persuasion power over your boss. It is often easy for a supervisor to ignore or attack one employee, but it becomes more difficult to attack all of his employees.
He might be able to fire one of you, but he will look like an idiot (and probably get fired himself) if he tries to fire all of you. An inter-department union is a good way of mustering power against an abusive employer.
Do not go up the chain of command unless it’s a last resort: Going straight up the chain of command is not an effective way of dealing with a difficult supervisor because it only increases conflict in the workplace. Your immediate supervisor will consider this a very serious backstabbing maneuver and might seek some sort of retribution in the future against you and your career.
Also, other people in your workplace might brand you as a whistleblower because of your actions. Try to discuss issues with your supervisor first and only go up the chain of command as a last resort.