Your Top Questions on Managing Your Boss

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.

 













Alison Green

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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  • Anonymous

    I once had a boss who yelled a lot and was very demeaning in the way she spoke to me.  Some people do not realize that you do not need to tolerate being treated that way.  If you don’t respect yourself, then there is no reason for your boss to have respect for you.  I found that the best way to correct the situation was to respond very calmly by saying, “I don’t appreciate the way you are speaking to me right now.  I would like to hear more about your opinion X, Y and Z.  Maybe we should continue this conversation at a later time.”  It always worked.  In fact, once I did it I found that my manager had more respect for me.  Sometimes people will only bully others in that way because they feel they can.  Once she realized I would not allow it, it was no longer an issue.  I know some people are afraid of making it worse or being fired for this.  But i couldn’t imagine my former boss telling HR that I asked her to stop yelling at me and that is why she wanted to fire me :0. 

    Also, another boss of mine had a habit of leaving their office during our meetings unannounced to go do something.  I would simply leave and return to my desk.  When they returned, I just simply said, “Oh, I thought we were done for now.  If you’re ready, we can continue the meeting.”  They never really got the message, but at least I got some work done in between!

    [Reply]

    Ask a Manager Reply:

    Good for you for enforcing appropriate boundaries with your boss!  I agree with you that most bullies will indeed back off from people who calmly make it clear that they won’t tolerate it, without seeming ruffled or upset.

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  • Anonymous

    I have a serial email checker for a boss – I come in to discuss a question I have about a client or contract, and even when he says he has time, he sits there and checks his email over and over and then I’ll have to repeat myself endlessly because he wasn’t paying attention the first two times I said it. I kind of want to steal his Blackberry and hide it sometimes! It’d be fun to watch the twitching, anyway.

    [Reply]

    Ask a Manager Reply:

    Would you ever try pointedly saying, “Should I come back when you’re free?” and see if he gets the message?

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  • http://gennyalexander.typepad.com/alexander/ Genny

    Along the lines of email checking, I have a boss who ALWAYS answers his phone. Whether we’re having a staff meeting down the hall, a one-on-one meeting in my office (next door to his office) or a meeting in his office, he stops whatever he is doing to answer his phone. It is SO annoying (and rude in my opinion), but I’ve come to realize that it is what it is. Overall he’s a great boss, so we all just deal with this annoying trait. 

    [Reply]

    Alison Green - Ask a Manager Reply:

    I think that’s a good attitude to have about it. If he’s overall a great boss, I’d even try to see this as an amusing foible, if possible. Sometimes that can make this sort of thing less annoying.

    [Reply]

  • jmkenrick

    What about a boss who doesn’t

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  • jmkenrick

    What about a boss who doesn’t give feedback? In the past, I’ve sometimes had trouble getting constructive feedback despite asking for it. Just a lot of ‘you’re doing fine.’ Which is great, obviously, but I’m always interested in improving.

    [Reply]

    Alison Green - Ask a Manager Reply:

    I had a reader ask something similar not too long ago, and I posted an answer here:
    http://www.askamanager.org/2011/03/how-can-i-get-critical-feedback.html

    I hope this helps!

    [Reply]

    jmkenrick Reply:

    Yes! I must have missed that post…it’s exactly what I’m wondering about. Thanks as always!

    [Reply]

  • Arae

    My problem is a something some people wouldnt even consider a “problem” – how do you handle a TOO nice boss? The kind that want to be your friend, go shopping with you, wonder where you get your hair cut and who your dentist is, etc. I try to answer her questions politely but in the shortest possible manner, but she always seems to make one question turn into 100, and in the end she knows everything about me, including what that fight my boyfriend and I had last night was about. How do I make it clear that I dont want to go shopping with her after work, and her asking me where and when I bought those pants and why I didnt invite her makes me uncomfortable?

    [Reply]

    Alison Green - Ask a Manager Reply:

    Just set and enforce boundaries and don’t let her push you past them. Be busy with work when she tries to talk to you about social things, and be vague when she asks you about your personal life. She shouldn’t even have known that you had a fight with your boyfriend — so stop telling her things like that. When she asks why you didn’t invite her shopping, laugh and act like she’s joking. At some point you may need to tell her point-blank that you like to have a boundary between work and social life, but you might be able to just get your point across by setting clearer boundaries and sticking to them!

    [Reply]

  • Tota

    My issue is that “I don’t sell myself and my work to my boss” that was the comment during my appraisal, I made huge savings to the company, completed projects and the announced the good news to my boss and ended with the lowest raise and bonus given, when I reviews the achievements with my boss and asked why this was the answer I got, my personal value is that” Those who really work don’t have to stop and talk about what they do and those who talk all the time may not have done anything at all” am I wrong?

    [Reply]

    Alison Green - Ask a Manager Reply:

    Well, it sounds like your boss is telling you pretty clearly that you do need to take steps to raise the visibility of what you’re getting done, even if that’s not your personal style. It would probably be helpful to make a point of sending him (and relevant others) an email when you accomplish something significant — because he’s telling you that he hasn’t been in the loop enough on that sort of thing.

    [Reply]

    Tota Reply:

    Last week I did this, sent an e-mail with an agreement I did that saved the company 100K a year and attached the analysis proving it, next I talked to him and informed him the same but his reply was:  OK.

    one day later another department manager revised a company used form and changed it, he sent a well done message and an encouragement to all to use it highlighting the well done creative job he did!!

    [Reply]

  • naruto

    what we should we do, our boss sets rule and if the rule fails she put the blame on us as if she did not gave the the rule that make us fail

    [Reply]

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  • Slr5ogier

    Iam sexually attracted to my boss and i think he feels the same way Iam married and am pretty sure he has a girlfiend  i cant stop thinking of him what should i do

    [Reply]

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  • good man

    I am not good at dealing with one on one with my manager, my impression is he would like to get the most from his employee but not vice verse, when my manager ask questions like ” what are your strength”, “what is your goal in five years” , could I ask the manage the same question?

    [Reply]

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