One of the biggest determinants of your quality of life at work is the relationship you have with your boss. And yet too often when faced with a frustrating boss, people throw up their hands and feel helpless to do anything about it. But instead, you can usually take actions to manage the situation and your boss.
Here are eight of the most common complaints about bosses – and how you can manage around them. And by the way, if you’re a manager yourself, take these questions doubly to heart, since your employees might be asking themselves the same things about you!
1. How can I handle a boss who micromanages my every move?
If your boss is micromanaging you, the first step is to ask yourself some tough questions to figure out if the problem is actually you. If you drop the ball on things more often than occasionally, forget details, miss deadlines, or produce work that requires a lot of changes from others, a good manager would get more closely involved.
But if you’re confident that your boss has no reason to doubt your work, try talking to her. Give examples of projects where you could have worked more effectively if you weren’t on such a short leash, and ask if there’s anything you’re doing that makes her feel she can’t trust you and how you can work with more autonomy. Suggest other ways to keep her in the loop, such as weekly reports or weekly meetings, so that she doesn’t feel she needs to check in as much. If she’s resistant, suggest she experiment by giving you more autonomy on one specific project to see how it goes.
2. How can I get my boss’s attention when he constantly checks his email while we’re meeting?
Email-checkers are annoying, and there’s a growing epidemic of them. Unfortunately, it’s your boss’s prerogative to do this, however annoying it may be. The most you can really do is to say something like, “Should I come back at another time?” But in the end, try your best to ignore it.
3. How can I respond to a boss who loves criticizing my work?
Explain your own perspective, but make sure your responses are unemotional, not defensive. For instance, you might say, “I see what you’re saying. The way I was looking at it was….” Or: “You’re right that I didn’t focus much on that project. I had thought that X and Y were higher priorities and was more focused there. But am I looking at this wrong?”
And hard as it may be, be genuinely glad to get the feedback, even if you think your boss is off-base. It’s far better to be made aware of your boss’s concerns now than to be blindsided by them one day. Repeat as needed: “I hadn’t realized it was coming across that way, so I’m glad to know.”
4. How should I handle a boss who yells?
Bosses who yell generally do it because they’re not good managers and don’t know any other way to get things done. You can try addressing the problem head-on by talking to your boss about it. But yellers have needy egos to protect, so give his ego the padding it needs first. Start by explaining that you really like your job – and even that you like working for him, if you can stomach that – and then say, “I really have trouble hearing your feedback when you yell at me. I want constructive criticism, but it’s hard for me to take it in when you’re yelling.” Will this work? With some bosses, yes. With others, no – but it’s reasonable to try.
5. What do I do when my boss is wrong?
Too often when people disagree with their boss, they don’t speak up. But – as long as your boss is sane and reasonable, not a lunatic – it’s worth sharing your viewpoint. After all, workplace disagreements often arise when two people have different pieces of information about something. It’s possible that you know something your boss doesn’t know, so figure out what that might be, tell her, and see if that changes anything. At the same time, be open to new information she might give you that might change your own viewpoint.
Of course, do this in a polite and collaborative manner. And if she overrules you, you’ll need to accept that, since that’s the nature of having a boss. But it’s worth saying something.
6. How can I tell my boss that my workload is too high?
Talk to your manager about what’s going on. Explain that your workload has become unmanageable and – this part is key — suggest some options. Say, “I can do A and B, but not C. Or if C is really important, I’d want to move A off my plate to make room for it. Alternately, I can act as an advisor to Jane on C, but I can’t do the work of C myself if I’m also doing A and B.”
If your manager resists making these kinds of choices and trade-offs, you need to keep pushing the issue. Say, “I hear you that we want it all to get done, but since I’m never going to be able to get to it all, I want to make strategic choices about how I should be structuring my time, and make sure that you and I are aligned on those choices.” If he’s still no help, come up with your own proposal for what you intend to do and not do, and give him that.
7. How can I get my manager to stop canceling our meetings?
Sometimes people just need to hear that these meetings matter to you. For all we know, she may be assuming that you’re relieved to have fewer meetings!
So talk to her. Tell her that getting a chance to talk every two weeks (or however often) is important to you, and ask if there’s a way to have the meetings happen more reliably. Would it help to change the day they’re scheduled for? Or would she be more able to make them happen if you both committed to a particular day without nailing down a specific time period, so that she has a larger window of time to make them happen? Or something else?
8. How can I work with a boss who seems to hate me?
In the short-term, try a direct conversation to get to the bottom of what’s going on. Say something like this: “I really want to have a strong working relationship with you, and I hoped you could give me some feedback. I have the sense that you might not be happy with my work, and I wonder if we can talk about where I’m going wrong.” This might surface some issues (for both of you) that you can work on changing.
In the longer-term, though, if your boss truly hates you, you’re better off finding another job. That’s far better for your quality of life than struggling every day.