How to Handle an Unreasonable Boss

We like to think we are right about most things: that our way of thinking is the right way, that our thought processes are always reasonable, and that we give good advice and direction. This is especially true if we are the boss. After all, the boss should be more experienced, have a broader perspective, and possess good judgment, right? Unfortunately, many times this is not the case.

Every unreasonable boss is difficult in their own way. They may insist on following through with a bad idea, he may not empathize or even try to understand what is on your plate, she may be impossible to communicate with, or he may give little or no recognition when you accomplish superhuman work. The process for dealing with difficult behavior, however, can be one and the same:

Understand where they’re coming from

Many (not all) bosses have certain personality traits that make them both successful… and obnoxious. Independent, action-oriented, task-oriented, impatient, stubborn, and smart. Life has taught them they do things well and are usually right, which of course, makes dealing with them challenging when that is not the case.

Don’t doubt yourself

The most difficult part about an unreasonable boss is, without a doubt, the way they make us feel. But don’t take their words and actions personally. It’s not you, it’s them. Stay confident in yourself and your work. Think about the positive feedback you receive from others and the success you have had in the past. Remind yourself that how they act says more about them than it does about you.

Anticipate their reaction

When you know what is coming, you can prepare. One of my former colleagues had a clever way of dealing with his “black hat” boss. (The black hat thinking style is one where nearly by default negativity is expressed; the person likes to play devil’s advocate, take the opposite side of an argument, and point out all the flaws or possible mistakes of a course of action.) He would start off the discussion with the very opposite of what he actually wanted. He found over time that this allowed both of them to react in a way that comes naturally to them, and led to a more productive discussion. Figure out a way to communicate that leads to the most favorable outcome most of the time.

Speak up

While it can be intimidating to be direct with your boss (especially one you might not describe as open and kind), they will almost always appreciate it and many times it can improve your relationship. Ask for feedback if you’re not getting it; point out workload conflicts and challenging deadlines; voice your dissent. However, be prepared for it to not take right away. Politely state your opinion and fight for your viewpoint, but in the end support the decision that is made.

For every unreasonable person out there, there is always a person that understands them, communicates well with them, and works productively around them. If the unreasonable person is your boss, the easiest way to deal is often to take on the challenge to become that person.















Eva Rykrsmith

Eva Rykrsmith is an organizational psychology practitioner. Her passion lies in bringing a psychology perspective to the business world, with the mission of creating a high-performance environment. Follow her @EvaRykr.

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