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23 November, London 

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difficult bosses

Tipster: managing your boss

Wed 02 Nov 2016

An aggressive, incompetent or bad-tempered boss can turn even the job of your dreams into a nightmare. Craig Ryan gathers some tips for “managing upwards” – and perhaps turning the situation to your advantage.

1. Don’t leave

If you’re otherwise satisfied with your job, use the situation to develop your skills and become a better manager yourself. If something else – your job description, workload or the organisation itself – is at the root of your unhappiness, tackle those issues first. And if your boss’s behaviour amounts to bullying or serious abuse, you need to make a formal complaint. But take time to talk through your options with your MiP rep or a trusted colleague first.

2. Make a plan

Don’t let things fester – you need a plan. Work out your own objectives first. Do you just want to smooth things over until you or your boss move on, or are you looking to build a long-term working relationship? Are you also trying to protect colleagues or change the policy of the organisation or department? Try to plan for every situation – even down to the words you will use when talking to your boss.

3. What’s makes them tick?

Try to understand why your boss is difficult. Micromanagers may simply be inexperienced, or they may have a deep-seated fear of losing control. Procrastinators might just be disorganised, or they may be terrified of making wrong decisions. Dictators may just be insecure, or they may really think they know it all. In each case, the behaviour may be the same but the causes and solutions are different.

4. Work around weaknesses

Think of your manager as a difficult patient – you’ve no choice but to work with them for now, so use your skills to diffuse potential conflicts. If your boss is a micromanager, keep them well informed. If they don’t like hearing bad news, try proposing one or two solutions at the same time. If they can’t deal with people, offer to handle difficult meetings for them.

5. Keep calm

Try really, really hard not to lose your temper with your boss. Just pausing for a few deep breaths can automatically produce a calmer, more reasoned response. Bad-tempered people are usually predictable, so work out your boss’s “triggers” and plan your responses. And remember, silence can be very effective – people soon feel silly getting angry on their own.

6. Accentuate the positive

Wholly bad managers don’t usually last long. Try to identify and play to your managers’ strengths – you could ask for their advice or suggest they take the lead on something they’ll do well. Always reinforce good behaviour. For example, making a point of thanking a micromanager when they do give you some responsibility is likely to encourage them to do it more often.

7. It’s (usually) good to talk

Sooner or later, you’ll probably have to talk to your boss about their behaviour. Plan what to say and how to say it. Keep it constructive and concentrate on the impact on your work and your team – not their personal deficiencies. If they get angry, offer to come back when they’ve calmed down. And try to leave the meeting with an agreed plan of action.

8. Take the credit

You are likely to get credit for succeeding in working with a difficult boss where others have failed. If your boss tends takes all the credit for your success, show them up by going out of your way to praise the other members of your team for their contributions.

9. Keep records

If problems persist, start a dairy and note all contacts – good and bad – with your boss as soon as you can afterwards. Write down how they made you feel and the effects on your work and your team. Keep copies of emails and other written communications, and store them offsite so you can access them at home if necessary.

10. Going nuclear

If nothing works, consider making a formal complaint. Talk to your MiP rep at the earliest opportunity, and make sure you’re prepared for the worst outcome. And remember – all your efforts to build a better relationship with your boss won’t have been wasted – they will significantly increase the chances of your complaint succeeding.

Craig Ryan (@CraigA_Ryan) is an independent writer and acting editor of Healthcare Manager.

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