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Experts share tips on how to navigate work with a difficult boss

Updated on: 21 November,2022 10:32 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Sammohinee Ghosh |

As Elon Musk’s firing of Twitter staff continues to create ripples, career advisors and a therapist suggest ways of addressing abrasive boss behaviour

Experts share tips on how to navigate work with a difficult boss

An egoistic boss can affect a worker’s self-esteem and confidence

If you’re on social media, the past few weeks would have rolled out thousands of jokes and memes on tech magnate Elon Musk who recently acquired networking platform Twitter. Since the acquisition, Musk has fired more than half of the company’s 7,500 employees — some of the firings were announced on the platform itself, has scrapped work-from-home modules, instated long working hours and signed off his email about ‘hardcore Twitter 2.0’ adding that workers can either follow the mandate or get fired.

Elon Musk
Elon Musk

However, the billionaire’s conduct is not a lone precedent. Toxic employer-employee relations are quite common in the corporate sector, but resigning en masse is not an option. City-based career experts and a psychologist show us the way to deal with an unreasonable boss.    

Make it work

In her experience as a victory coach, Farzana Suri often meets clients who are struggling with relationship problems with their managers. Over a year, nearly 40 per cent of her client pool approaches her with issues related to workplace hierarchy. “Their problems intensify a few months before appraisals. This is the period when corporate employees become defensive and start questioning their abilities,” notes Suri. Admitting that an egoistic senior at work can disrupt one’s work-life balance, Suri says that resigning or risking dismissal is not advisable. There are practical ways of dealing with such issues and talking ill about one’s boss to their peers is certainly not a solution.

Farzana Suri
Farzana Suri

“That makes you a gossip-monger. You are furthering the negative energy. Instead, take a step back and analyse the situation. Take stock of your actions and try to understand your manager’s triggers. We should realise that nobody doles out bad behaviour in isolation. They do it with people and under certain circumstances. Maybe you are dealing with an anxious person, perhaps they have toxic bosses who make them operate a certain way or they have set unrealistic career goals for themselves,” she points out, advising:  

1 Pre-plan your course of action: Once we have a better idea of how our bosses think, we know what to avoid. If they’re particular about deadlines and like micro-managing, anticipate their queries and plan your work accordingly. Don’t give them an opportunity to come back to you with complaints. If they want everything on email, send out an intimation before they ask for it. 

2 Leave the personal aside: An employer doesn’t specifically mistreat one staffer. Learn to consider their behaviour as a pattern. They have done and will do the same with other staff, too. Distancing the personal from an event helps us identify a chief’s conduct as a demon they’re battling. It prevents us from self-doubt, poor confidence and dilemma.

Tanisha Guin
Tanisha Guin

3 Do what’s done in the Armed Forces: An assertive boss is usually a perfectionist. They pick at a staffer because they don’t trust them and fear that a task assigned to them won’t be delivered on time or pass their quality standards. In such a case, we should ask questions. We can repeat our senior’s instructions as questions to them with an intent to understand their expectations. The practice is followed in the Army, so that there’s no room for confusion. 

4 Learn to negotiate: While we pay heed to deadlines set by a senior, there are often practical hindrances that we are aware of. Take your senior through the steps that you have to follow to finish a job and ask them about cut-offs if deadlines can’t be met. We should learn to negotiate mutual expectations.  

5 Be a problem-solver: In case of sudden hiccups, always reach out to your boss with solutions. An anxious manager isn’t great with last-minute challenges and when presented with problems, might see you as a weak link in their growth chain. It also helps build trust.

Break the cycle

Tanisha Guin, a career coach in the social impact industry, believes that caustic behavioural patterns shouldn’t be encouraged. “If you are being bullied or held accountable for something you haven’t done, put your truth across in a civil way. It’s essential to speak out but never mistreat your seniors. Start a conversation that can be backed by a track record of deadlines and deliverables you have met. Maintain a record over a period of time so that your dismissive boss can’t call your need for dialogue an expression of your emotions alone,” she shares. Guin adds that tact is handy to start a conversation with an abusive person. “Start with reposing your faith in your boss. Say that you would like to believe they are the type of person who believes in certain ideals. Then, push for your concerns but pose them as questions that stand out in contrast to fulfilled prerequisites,” she adds.

Coming apart at the seams

The cut-throat world of fashion interests Noida-resident Gobhil V for its creative challenges. He says, “If you’re working with the right team and doing your best, the possibilities are endless.” Although every workplace can have its set of disadvantages, the design graduate feels that a series of toxic experiences at his last two jobs has deeply distressed him. “I was given the pink slip at my last job on November 3. My contract was terminated over a text message and I have still not received a concrete reason for their decision. Apparently, I was fired for working on parallel projects. I have designed outfits as part of freelance assignments — something I did after the daily hours committed to my full-time job. My contract with the company — although it wasn’t quite structured — never mentioned anything against freelance gigs,” recalls Gobhil, who has recently joined a smaller label. He is now focused on finding his composed self at work through therapy.

Experts suggest that workplace issues should not be taken to heart
Experts suggest that workplace issues should not be taken to heart

Looking back, the 29-year-old couturier reckons he shared a difficult relationship with his former employers because they brought their personal business to office. “It’s hard to work if there is no room for suggestions. The firm was run by two brothers. While one would walk in drunk and continue drinking in his office through the day, the other person would demand non-interference from the staff while he stayed locked up in his office with two men for hours. These were routine happenings. They were unavailable for feedback, domineering and closed to proposals from employees. They have randomly fired other members, too.”

Gobhil says when adverse situations become typical, much of it is a blur. He is glad to have quit his second-last job where he was being attacked, violated and questioned for quality work. He recounts some of his innovations which his employer liked — and being asked if he ideates under the effect of drugs. “How do you react to that? My manager also relied on an astrologer for professional decisions and on multiple accounts [without my consent] has discussed our interactions with the person. I have had to put up with unwarranted analyses on my sexuality, background and disposition. We had access to a mental health professional in the company, but vulnerabilities discussed with the therapist would reach our boss, which she would use against us in an argument,” he shares. 

Master the mind

>> Try to gauge your senior’s way of expressing dissatisfaction. Check if they have left any scope for healthy communication.
>> Be open to handling constructive criticism instead of being defensive.
>> Practise healthy detachment from the situation, and don’t label your boss as toxic or nasty. It won’t help you return to work the next day.
>> Work on your coping mechanisms. Find validation in relationships outside work.
>> Limit your expectations of compassion from leaders and find the next best alternative to work in a civil way. 

Shrradha Sidhwani, psychologist

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