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Dealing with a Difficult Boss
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Dealing With a Difficult Boss

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If you're working in corporate America today, you're being asked to do more with less. The economic downturn of the late 1990's, outsourcing of jobs, and the implosion of whole sectors-all of these factors have contributed to a business environment that is fiercely competitive.

Nowhere does this nerve wracking and high velocity approach show up more than in the modus operandi of many bosses.

Learning how to function with a difficult boss is one of the hardest challenges you face in your work life. Have you heard the saying that people don't leave jobs, they leave their bosses? So true! You can love your job but if you hate your boss, you will hate going to work. And you won't last long.

So how do you deal with a difficult boss?

In this article I profile four types of bosses: The Screamer, The Hypocrite, The Egomaniac, and The Risk Averse Boss.
See if you recognize your boss.

The Screamer

Don't you just love this type of boss? NOT. At least she is predictable. You can rest assured that she will erupt like clockwork.

Watch for the telltale signs prior to erupting. Her brow will furl, eyebrows will rise and you can see the veins popping in her neck.
Sometimes, she'll just explode without any warning or provocation.

The screamer burns out quickly. And she won't remember what she said 15 minutes later. Screamers don't want to be interrupted; you'll make matters worse if you try to respond. Batten down the hatches while she blows off steam. If you can't remove yourself, at least you know that this eruption usually doesn't last long. As with a child having a tantrum, you have to wait till the child runs out of tears and energy.

Dealing with The Screamer

After the high volume tirade stops and you have an opening, probe to find out what's behind the loud stream of words. Deliberately lower the volume of your voice and the tone of the discourse.

Ask: "I want to make sure I understand; can we go over the most important points?"

Learn to judge the best times to approach her. Tone of voice, body language, time of day, all these hold signs of her emotional barometer. That's the key to getting what you need and avoiding many of her outbursts.

One note of caution, you need to have a thick skin to deal with this type of boss. If you're easily offended or take things personally (it's hard not to when someone is screaming at you!), you'll need an attitude adjustment or you will burn out. My best advice is to watch other people who work well with her, and follow their lead.

The Hypocrite

This boss says one thing but really means another. The hypocrite will say he wants you to take the lead but what he means is if you try to overstep your authority, he'll embarrass you in front of staff members. Or he will say the company is hard pressed for cash and then you'll find that he's bought a designer suit and is planning a vacation in Europe. He is a master at talking out of both sides of his mouth. What you see is definitely not what you get!

Dealing with the Hypocrite

You need to figure out if your boss is just moody or if his behavior is done with intent. This is a huge distinction. If your boss's behavior comes from mood swings, you need to keep your reactions as consistent as possible.

Whether things are good or bad, you need to control how you respond and not join your boss on his emotional rollercoaster. Be patient and professional at all times. Use a "charge neutral" voice, an even, unemotional tone.

On the other hand, if he alters his behavior to manipulate you, he is on power trip and patience and professionalism on your part won't work. You'll need to prepare an exit strategy and eventually, leave.

The Egomaniac

Does your boss suck up all the air in the room? An inflated personality is often part of entrepreneurial DNA. This type of boss wouldn't be where she is without the drive and single-mindedness that catapulted her vision from an idea into reality. However, when an oversized ego defines her management style and overpowers team members, it becomes your problem.

Dealing with the Egomaniac

First, sometimes you need to let the boss take the credit (even if it was your idea). Okay, I can hear you saying "no way!" The reality is your job is to make her look good to clients and/or her boss. You need to do whatever it takes to help her achieve her goals (within ethical boundaries, of course). From her success, flows your success.

Second, don't let your being miffed at her taking the credit cloud the big picture. The big picture means helping her become successful so you can ultimately get what you want/need. It amounts to delaying immediate gratification for a bigger prize later. So, hold your tongue and communicate your personal goals to your boss when the timing is right.

Tip: you can always let her know after the presentation that you were so pleased one of "your" ideas played a role in winning the account or having the project turn out so well. Watch the tone of your voice. Make sure you don't sound sarcastic or mocking. Your boss will understand what you are implying.

However, if your boss consistently overlooks your contributions, or if you are never recognized, then it's time to start documenting your ideas. The cream always rises to the top and you can take your expertise to organizations where it will be appreciated. Until then, being a team player is the name of the game.

The Risk Averse Boss

He/she has zero comfort with risk taking. Any suggestions for streamlining or improving a procedure are met with a lukewarm reception.

Further, you feel like you are carrying your boss. The day they were doling out the genes for drive and ambition, your boss was AWOL. He/she does not lead or contribute and does the minimum amount necessary. Whenever you bring up a new idea or project, it never gets anywhere. This type of boss has no desire to move to the next level. And zero desire to help you get ahead.

Dealing with the Risk Averse Boss

Your job is to help your boss get comfortable with risk. Suggest possible scenarios, starting with low risk alternatives, to ease your boss into the process. Your boss may need to see the advantages in written form, with the pros outweighing the cons. Strengthen your case by lining up people who will support your suggestions. Take the time to build a strong case, one that makes it easy for your boss to say yes.

A Final Note

Learning the techniques necessary to thrive despite having a difficult boss will serve you well over the span of your entire career. Chances are, somewhere in your work life you will have a boss who challenges your patience and sanity. Building a time-tested arsenal of methods to handle this challenge is a transferable skill of the first order.

Dale Kurow, M.S., MCDP, is an author and a career and executive coach in New York City. Dale works with clients across the United States helping them to become better managers, figure out their next career moves and thrive despite office politics. Visit Dale's web site at http://www.dalekurow.com to learn more about her services.

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