10 Ways to Deal with a Difficult Manager
In an ideal world, we would all have fantastic managers, people who help us succeed, who make us feel valued, and who were just all-around great people. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. But, whether the person you work for is a micromanager or not supportive enough, you still have to make the best of the situation and get your job done.
However fixed in their ways your manager may be, you can always learn ways to better manage them. The secret is to “manage up” without them ever realising you are doing it. So rather than think of your manager as your manager, think of them as a difficult client, one you have to figure out how to work with if you want to get ahead, even if you’d rather not. To help out, try one or more of these tips to find some common ground with your difficult manager.
1. Make sure you’re dealing with a “bad manager”
Before trying to fix your bad manager, make sure you really are dealing with one. Is there a reason for their behaviour, or are you simply being too hard on them? Observe your manager for a few days and try to notice how many things they do well versus poorly. When they are doing something “bad,” try to imagine the most forgiving reason why it could have occurred. Is it truly their fault, or could it be something out of their control?
2. Identify your manager’s motivation
Understanding why your manager does or cares about certain things can give you insight into their management style. If the rules are totally out of control, try to figure out your manager’s motivation. Maybe it’s not that they really care about how long your lunch break takes; they actually care about how it looks to other employees and their superiors.
3. Don’t let it affect your work
No matter how bad your manager’s behaviour, avoid letting it affect your work. You want to stay on good terms with other leaders in the company and keep your job. Don’t try to even the score by working slower, or taking excessive “mental health” days or longer lunches. It will only put you further behind in your workload and build a case for your manager to give you the old heave-ho before you’re ready to go.
4. Stay one step ahead
Especially when you’re dealing with a micromanager, head off your manager’s requests by anticipating them and getting things done before they come to you. A great start to halting micromanagement in its tracks is to anticipate the tasks that your manager expects and get them done well ahead of time. If you reply, “I actually already left a draft of the schedule on your desk for your review,” enough times, you’ll minimise the need for their reminders. They’ll realise that you have your responsibilities on track and that they don’t need to watch your every move.
5. Document everything
If there is often a breakdown in communication between you and your manager, document your formal interactions, be it requests or criticisms, so you can refer back to them if necessary. When your manager asks you for something, get it in writing, and ensure there is a paper trail of all requests as well as everything you produce. If your manager is the type who gives you directions verbally, follow up with an email that outlines the discussion to ensure that you heard everything correctly. Cover yourself at all times and be prepared to pull out your documented proof if your manager questions your outputs.
6. Wait it Out
Dealing with a conflict? Make sure to give it some time before reacting. Timing is often everything when managing conflict with a manager. Sometimes it makes more sense to wait it out than confront the situation head on. If your manager has a lot on their plate this month, their stress level may be high and they might not take as kindly to your issues. Remember that they are human too.
7. Act as the leader
When dealing with an incompetent manager, sometimes it’s best to make some leadership decisions on your own. If you know your area well enough, there is no reason to not go ahead creating and pursuing a direction you know will achieve good results for your company. People who do this are naturally followed by their peers as an informal leader. Management, although maybe not your direct manager, will notice your initiative. Of course, you don’t want to do something that undermines the manager, so keep them in the loop.
8. Identify triggers
If your manager has anger management problems, identify what triggers their meltdowns and be extra militant about avoiding those.
9. Use tips from couples’ therapy
When dealing with disagreement, pull on some tenants from couple’s therapy to work through the issue. Simply repeat back to your manager what they said and ask “Is that what you meant?” (a standard trick ripped from couples’ therapy). If they agree to your recap, ask them to tell you more about it. When you repeat someone’s perspective back to them, you give them a chance to expound and, crucially, to feel heard.
10. Avoid future bad managers
When interviewing with a new company, do your research ahead of time to make sure you’re not getting into another situation with a less than ideal manager. Have coffee or lunch with one or more staffers at the new company. Ostensibly, your purpose is to learn general information about the company and its culture. However, use this opportunity to discover as much about your potential manager as possible, without appearing intrusive, of course.
What do you think?
A bad manager can really siphon the enjoyment from what might otherwise be a rewarding role, leaving you feeling undervalued, and wondering whether you should begin searching for something new. What tips have you used to better manage your manager?
This article was written by Jelena Milutinovic on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources were used to compile this article: Forbes and The Muse