4 Steps to Working with a Difficult Boss

For those of us who work for an organization and long enough, we will eventually have a difficult boss.  You currently have one or expect to have one soon, thus you are reading this article.  Many times, a difficult boss is challenging because they have a different style, approach, pace or demeanor.  Infrequently, they may simply not like you or your approach to work or projects.  Regardless of situation, there are actions you can take to help navigate this chapter of your career.

There are four steps that are worth trying individually, but preferably in combination that may prove helpful:

1. Focus on adjusting your behavior, not having your boss adjust their behavior.  You can’t control the behavior of others, and least likely your supervisor.  But, you can control your own behavior.  As you work with your boss, learn their preferences and make the appropriate adjustments.  For example, they may have a different communication style—tone, frequency, type (e.g. written versus oral), etc.  While their approach may not be your favorite, it is an adjustment you can make.


Similarly, they may be more effective at a different time of day or have a different pace.  While suddenly converting from a night owl to a morning person is not easy, it may be a means to work more effectively with your supervisor.

2. Get aligned with your boss.  It is most helpful to align priorities with your supervisor.  Perhaps the prior supervisor was less of a micro manager.  Find out what they need, timing and format.  Then provide it.

One suggestion is to use a chart that shares what you have worked on recently and what is coming up.  This tool may help gain their input on recent and future projects, timing and prioritization.

Recent Accomplishments

New Projects                                                             Timing

3. Stay prepared on aspects of your role.  Should your personalities be the challenge, don’t let it interfere with the quality of your work product.  Continue to be a professional and stay on top of all aspects of your responsibilities.  If possible, stay ahead to prevent a personality issue from bleeding into a performance issue.

4. Lastly, stay positive.  This particular relationship will typically last a finite period of time.  Before you know it, there will be a reorganization, new responsibilities, or some other change that may enable your to have a new reporting structure.  However, use this as an opportunity to learn.  For even my worse managers had some talents that were unique to them.

At some point, nearly every employee has a bad boss.  It is not a lifelong sentence.  Make some behavioral adjustments, learn from it and stay positive.

Dwain Celistan is a retained executive recruiter and coach.  He is the author of several books including “You’re Hired Actions to Get and Keep the Job You Love”.  His contact information is dwain@reinvent2achieve.com or 630-455-0172.



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