Updated: Oct 23, 2019
There is no perfect world, there is no perfect job, and definitely there is no perfect boss. We all seem to have our ups and downs with our bosses. However, a difficult boss is—and will remain—the main reason for people struggling in their work. “People join companies and leave managers” will remain a correct statement for a long time until we can figure out a way to solve the boss-subordinate lack of harmony issues that may cause us to miss promotion, struggle with our careers, and even sometimes quit our jobs.
These are the ten amendments to help you dealing with a difficult boss.
1. The facts, just the facts, and nothing but the facts!
Before jumping into the decision that you were thrown to a bad boss who’s going to destroy your career, first make sure that this boss is really as bad as you think. The first thing you need to do is to state the facts, the whole facts, and nothing but the facts. Don’t tell yourself “my boss favours my colleague over me”, but rather say “my boss decided to select my colleague for this promotion and not me.” This will help you to a great deal when going to step 2.
2. Ask yourself “Why?”
Try to find a reason for your boss to take those decisions that you don’t like, but –again-through looking at the facts not your own interpretation of the facts. Getting back to the previous example: the question will be “why did my boss decide to select my colleague for this promotion?” This is a question that invites objectivity in analysing the reasons for this step. On the other hand: “Why does my boss favour my colleague?” will take you to a whole emotional down spiral that will add no value to you.
Searching for objective reasons for the behaviour of your boss based on the facts in hand can open your eyes to things you’re missing that may add to your potential for promotion and career fulfillment, making you the right calibre for the next promotion.
3. Be your boss’s counsellor:
Imagine that your boss is asking you to defend his or her decisions to the executive management, what will you say? Be objective and represent your client properly. You’ll probably find yourself 1) mentioning the good things that your boss did, and 2) highlighting the reasons that drove him to take the decision under question. Now, do you see any rationale for your colleague being promoted instead of you? Can you see your boss’s point of view? If you can, then there were basis for his decision other than pure favouritism, and these reasons may not be totally accepted by you, however they still show the reason for this decision away from emotional biases.
4. Is it me who has a problem?
While defending your boss’s decision and trying to find a reason for it you may be surprised to discover that it was you who had a problem, and that you are the one who didn’t have what it takes to work with your boss in harmony.
Getting back to our example: one of your ways to defend your boss for selecting your colleague over you for this promotion is to think of the advantages that this colleague may have and that make him a better fit for this promotion. You may then realize that your boss did the right thing at least from his point of view, and that there are points of strengths that you need to work on, or you need to further highlight to your boss in order to land this promotion, and in both cases this is something that you—not your boss—have to do.
This requires lots of ego-fighting and self-discipline, we usually don’t like to confess that we’re the ones responsible for the problems we are in. However, this approach will help you realize the points of improvement that you can work on, in my book I discuss “controlling the controllable” which means focusing on the things that we can fix for ourselves by ourselves, and this example is definitely one of them.
5. He’s the boss … not God!
Bosses are human beings, they take their decisions based on a mix of objective assessments and performance indicators on one side, and feeling comfortable to work with certain people on the other side. When I was asked to give one piece of advice that summarizes my book it was “add value, and be a pleasure to work with.” Because my experience taught me that adding value at work is essential for getting promoted, but it is not the only thing to develop, and that being emotionally intelligent enough to build strong rapport with your colleagues and your boss is as important.