What should you do if you really cannot get on with your boss at work? Maybe there has been a breakdown in trust, in communication or in respect. In any event it is ruining your time at work and making you frustrated and unhappy. Let’s call your manager “John” and see how we can approach the situation. (The advice here works equally well whether your boss is a man or a woman).
1. How do other people find him? Does everyone have a hard time with John or is it just you? Check out how other people get on with him by asking subtle questions – do not rant about how awful he is and see if others agree. If everyone has a problem with him then you have some common ground on which to work. If only you have difficulties with him then you need to examine yourself and your relationship with him.
2. Ask yourself why. List all the reasons why you think things are not working between you. There are probably some big assumptions on your list so you will need to validate them carefully.
3. Have a heart to heart meeting. Schedule a time to meet John when he is not under pressure. Tell him that you want to discuss some important issues. At the meeting explain very calmly and rationally that you do not feel the relationship is working well and that you would like to explore why and how to improve it. Do not go into a long list of complaints and sores. Take a factual example if you can and start from there. Let him do most of the talking. Try to see the situation from his point of view and understand exactly what he sees as the issues. See how many of the problems you listed at point 2 above are real.
4. Agree an action plan. If you can agree a plan for outcomes that you both want then it really helps. What is it that he wants you to achieve? If you deliver it will he be happy with your performance? Even if you disagree on all sorts of other things try to agree on what your key job objectives are. Ideally you should agree actions that each of you will take to improve the working relationship.
5. Try to understand his objectives and motivation. Even if John is lazy, dishonest and spiteful you can still find out what he is keen to achieve and work with him towards his goals. If you can find a way to help him with his objectives then maybe you can work around his faults. A good rule at work is to help your boss to succeed – whether you like him or not. Other people will see you do this and it works to your credit – especially if they know that your boss is difficult.
6. Go over his head. This is a risky option but sometimes it is necessary – especially if most other people share the same problems with John. Have a quiet word with your boss’s boss and say that you feel that the department is not achieving all that it could. Make some broad suggestions about how things could be improved without making direct accusations against John. Let the senior manager read between the lines; he or she probably knows already.
7. Move sideways in the organization. If you cannot move up then move across for a while. Get some experience in another department. Eventually John will move on, be fired or quit. If you are seen as a positive contributor then you may get your chance to do John’s job better than he did.
8. Quit. Life is too short to spend it in a job that makes you miserable. If you have tried all of the routes above and are still blocked and frustrated then find a job elsewhere. There are plenty of good bosses who want enthusiastic and diligent people to work for them.
Sooner or later most of us will get a difficult boss to deal with. Do not become sullen or aggressive. The trick is to figure out a way to get on with the boss in a manner that helps both of you. It can nearly always be done.
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