Smart ways to deal with difficult boss at work

Updated: Dec 07, 2016, 15:26 IST | Suprita Mitter |

USA has a new boss. And not everyone is thrilled. How do you deal with a leader you didn’t root for? A survival guide to negotiate every sticky work scenario

Donald Trump at the Presidential Debate at Hofstra University, in Hempstead, New York. Pic/AFPDonald Trump at the Presidential Debate at Hofstra University, in Hempstead, New York. Pic/AFP

The results of the dramatic and scrappy US elections left the country and the world on tenterhooks, with a radically different change of guard and mindset. When we posted a tweet asking people to share their experiences about difficult bosses, we were privy to several appalling accounts. So how does one work with a new, difficult boss and yet maintain work ethic and civility? Personal and professional coach Khyati Birla gives us the walkthrough.

Problem 1: Abusive boss
Donald Trump has a dubious record, and is known to have used offensive, malicious language throughout the campaign trail. Thirty-three-year-old Mahek Vyas is at peace with his current boss. His experience with his previous boss, however, wasn’t the same. “My ex-super boss was the GM and also, a member of the family that owned the business. He was abusive and lacked etiquette. He would scream and use foul language in front of his children, who would visit the office at times,” recalls Vyas. “HR couldn’t fire the owner, so despite everyone being aware of the problem it couldn’t be fixed,” he adds.
Solution: I have seen people deliberately acquire intimidatory skills and abusive language as a power trip and to reinforce their position. It has worked for them in the past as they have got desired results with such behaviour and so, they have no reason to change. In fact, they might be surprised to learn that they have hurt people. Abusive language can be deeply threatening, so don’t let your emotions make you defensive. Communicate that you are uncomfortable, and s/he might be willing to change. If not, the usual protocol is to document all the episodes and talk to the workplace counsel or HR.

Problem 2: Lack of experience
Like in the case of the US elections, where Trump is a novice and has not held any role in government, the inexperience of your boss might be a hurdle in the way of your performance.
Solution: If your boss is inexperienced, make it a point to present factual data involved in your decision making. This will help them understand the ground reality.

Problem 3: Opposite viewpoints
With his racial and sexual remarks, Trump’s views differ from countless Americans. Your boss and you might not be on the same page on important goals and views too.
Solution: Metaphorically, it’s like Russian Roulette. You could be right or wrong at different times. So, for work-related decisions, put your point across with sufficient data as back-up. Dig up your mind for evidence where your boss has taken an incorrect decision before. This practice helps you understand whether you are assuming that your boss is wrong, or if you have solid evidence to show that your boss makes costly mistakes. If the issues are not work related, agree to disagree in your mind.

Problem 4: Poor social skills
From reprimanding mothers with crying babies at his rallies to ticking off the fourth estate, Trump isn’t exactly known for his social skills, nor is your boss.
Solution: This one can be quite a challenge. Bosses with poor interpersonal skills play on their employees’ mind. In the absence of any feedback, staffers are second-guessing, with no scope to modify their work as per their boss’s desire. Daniel Pink in his book Drive — The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, found that employees are more driven to do their best more often when appreciated. Monetary compensation doesn’t have that the same effect. Request for feedback to improve your own growth.

Case studies

Unsupportive one
“Two years ago, I joined my first job as salon manager. I interned there for six months. Post this too, there was no talk of the stipend being increased. Being a young girl, my boss expected me to lure male clients. When I complained about misbehaviour of some clients, she ignored it and asked me to continue with work; refusing a client would mean monetary loss. I was naïve and didn’t know how to deal with it, so I quit.” - Neha Panchmatiya, 28

The conservative
“I worked as team leader in a software company. The project manager would not encourage any fresh ideas. He had no consideration for issues that the team was facing. I would do my homework and give him facts and figures to prove how my ideas would help the team, so that he had no escape route.” - Keya Bhatt, 31

Khyati BirlaKhyati Birla

Smart ways to work your way around the difficult boss

>> Use tact and diplomacy: Be prepared to assert your viewpoint without losing your cool. Anticipate a come-back and have an appropriate response in place. Act with confidence. Do not allow your boss to bully you or get personal. Document all your discussions and their outcomes. Your colleagues are aware of your boss’s behaviour; however, they are not the people to vent at or gossip with about the boss. Seek HR’s help. More often than not, they are aware of the problem.

>> Adjust the mindset: A difficult boss is one of the primary reasons why employees quit. However, try to assess where your boss is coming from, what shapes his/her work style, instead of taking the easy way out. Check if differences in temperament will allow you to perform. Consider if your working style might have to change to suit the boss’s. Having a growth mindset (“Let me see how this can be worked out”) instead of a fixed mindset (“The boss is difficult and unreasonable”) will allow you to explore possibilities.

>> Be professional: Do not try to sabotage your boss’s work wins. Work comes first and should never suffer.

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