Most workers at some point in their careers have to deal with a difficult manager. Difficult managers vary in personality from being a little pushy or rude, all the way to being downright abusive.
The role of a manager frequently attracts certain controlling-type personalities because they tend to function well in that type of job, and get a lot out of their subordinates. Managers who can rally workers to beat deadlines or make that extra sale have a lot of value to their upper management.
However, when a manager is too controlling, or too pushy, the opposite can happen. Workers can become demoralized and negative, and the quantity or quality or work can actually decrease.
It is also very hard on workers when their manager is very difficult to work with. Workers like to be appreciated and valued for the work they do. If the work atmosphere is always negative or pressured, workers tend to isolate. That can impact productivity.
For workers who find themselves in a difficult manager situation, here are some strategies on how to handle it:
1) Do not react to verbal abuse or harsh criticism with emotion. This will always cause more trouble, as it can quickly escalate into a war between egos. When a personal attack is made on a worker, it is key to step back and move on. By doing this, a worker can effectively strip all of the power behind the verbal attack without creating conflict.
2) Do not confront. Instead, focus on a discussion. When criticized by a manager, do not become confrontational with them about it, because that just breeds more conflict. Instead, use their criticism as a topic for discussion on interests, goals, and problem-solving, and ask them for their advice. A manager has their own idea on how that work should be done, so ask them for their advice on how it can be improved.
3) Manage the manager. A source of conflict frequently occurs when a worker gets a new manager who demands that things run differently. These changes are usually reactionary in nature because the worker will go about their regular duties until the manager comes by and criticizes the way it is being done. Instead of waiting for their criticism, take a proactive approach and be absolutely clear from the very beginning on how the new manager wants things to be done. That way, there is no miscommunication later on.
4) Know that little things can be done to help change a manager. Being a difficult person is part of their personality and therefore it is a very difficult, if not an impossible thing to change in a manager. Instead, change the way that their behavior is viewed. Don’t label a manager as a jerk—just merely label them as your manager. By avoiding derogatory labeling, a worker will avoid making it easy to be angry at the manager all the time.
5) Keep a professional face on at all times. Know the difference between not liking a manager and not being professional. A worker does not have to make friends with their manager, but they do have to remain professional and get the job done. The bottom line is that a worker must carry out their instructions dutifully as a subordinate, just like the worker would expect subordinates to be professional if they were a manager.
6) Workers need to evaluate their own performance. Before a worker needs to go into attack mode on their manager, they need to honestly and factually examine their own performance. A worker who is being criticized needs to ask themselves if they are doing everything right. Workers can also get opinions from other trusted coworkers about their performance and see if there is any warrant to the criticisms of the manager.
7) Do not be quick to go up the chain of command. Going straight up the chain of command is not an effective way of dealing with a difficult manager because it only increases conflict in the workplace. A manager will consider this a very serious backstabbing maneuver and might seek some sort of retribution in the future. A worker should always try to discuss issues with their manager first and only go up the chain of command as a last resort.
8) Encourage good behavior with praise. It is easy to criticize a manager, but criticisms often lead towards resentment and hostile feelings. Everyone likes a pat on the back for good behavior, so a worker should strive to watch for good behaviors from their manager and compliment them on that. Proactive praising is much more effective than reactive criticisms.
The good news is that the large majority of managers are efficient and effective. They have unique methods of getting more than average work out of their subordinates, and give employees deserved recognition. For those unfortunate to work for a difficult manager, these tips can help make the situation more manageable.
It’s important for a worker to realize that they have significant control over their own professional career. A difficult manager might make an assignment seem like an eternity, but the truth is career paths will move and realign. What’s important is for a worker to not give up their future during the present.