Most of my work is centred around helping Managers and Leaders to be better and do better. I know that "bosses" can have a profound impact on how you feel, think and behave. They have the power to impact you emotionally, physically and mentally, and when it's on the negative side it can have awful consequences. I don't want anyone to feel stressed, harmed, disengaged or unhappy because of their work and the Boss is a key contributor to how anyone feels about their work. So I help train, develop and coach Leaders to create enviroments where their people can thrive. But you are not powerless. You are not a victim.
You can be empowered to make a change in the relationship and here is how:
- Take a good look at yourself. Some bosses should never be bosses. Some bosses are accidental bosses and as their careers progressed, they find themselves responsible for managing people. If you find yourself with one of these bosses, life can be incredibly tough, but for the most part, Bosses don't mean to cause harm. You might need to take a look at your own emotions, behaviours and perspectives. I am not saying that you are the problem, but in any relationship, there are two people who make it or break it. Perhaps you feel your boss is too directive, is that because they believe you are capable of finding solutions so they just tell you what they need and then let you get on with it? Or perhaps you find your boss a micro manager, but have you been late on assignments before or turned in incomplete work with mistakes in it? Perhaps they are totally disorganised and stressed and you resent that? What can you do to reduce that stress for them? Work out what it is that you hate about your boss and figure out why they behave the way they do, and what you can do to overcome it? There is a lot you do have control over, so make a start today.
- Study your boss. Often, different personality styles or working preferences cause conflict. If you like detail, but your boss is a blue skies thinker, you are going to struggle until you both realise you can be each others greatest assets. You might be collaborative and amiable, they might be challenging and dominant, making one feel powerless against the other - until you realise that you have expertise and a voice. Perhaps you like systems and rules and they love to break them. Appreciating each others styles and how they can support and strengthen the work and results can be unlocked potential in the relationship, or the breaker.
- Talk to your boss. Now I know this can feel incredibly difficult and requires a lot of courage, but honestly, a planned, considerate conversation can have a huge impact. They may have no idea they are causing your misery. I remember one micromanager who made me hate my job. After a few months I said "You know, I am incredibly experienced in writing and delivering presentations. I wander why you feel the need to check my work and ability before I present? I find it incredibly undermining." Everything changed from that point, for the better. We had a very open conversation and he realised he was the problem. Of course it won't always go well, but what is the alternative? Your life won't change unless you take some action.
- Check your emotions. We are all emotional creatures, and if you are experiencing negative emotions towards someone, it colours your perspectives, interpretations and actions. One person can send the same email to 10 people, and each one will interpret the information based on their thoughts, feelings and experiences of that person. If you like that person, you are more likely to support their ideas and plans, dislike them and you will subconsciously find the faults in their plans. If you are continually responding negatively, perhaps your boss sees you as trouble and responds accordingly.
- Try mediation. If you have tried to change your mindset and behaviours, tried to talk to your boss, and things still don't change, then you might need to get some help. Mediation or relationship coaching can really help both parties speak and listen to the others persons perspective and create a workable plan to move forward. You might not be best friends as a result, but you can create a mutual respect and agree what is OK and not OK when dealing with each other. The key is that both parties must want to draw a line in the past and commit to moving forward.
- Talk to others. Are you the only person that feels this way or do others have the same issue? Now you must be careful that you don't become a gossip, or stir negative mindsets in others, causing a movement against your boss. Get curious and ask others how they work with your boss and what they like or dislike about them. Perhaps you will learn some techniques to manager your manager, or find that you aren't alone.
- Talk to someone higher up. If you have tried all of the above and can't find a way forward, it's now time to talk to someone in HR or the bosses boss. Now remember, those higher up will be concerned about you, but their job is to be concerned about the bigger organisation. Bringing a problem to them might not get you the solution you want straight away and they will need to investigate, observe and find the right approach going forward. They might decide to develop or train the manager, do an investigation, performance management or look strategically at reorganisation. They will listen, but they can't take sides. Going against your boss can feel like betrayal or tale-telling if you haven't tried to resolve the situation first, which can then break trust and damage the future relationship.
- Create an exit plan. Even if you don't use it, looking at your options or planning for an exit by a certain date puts in in control of your own life and career again. It is incredibly empowering removes the power from the manager.
- Accept when it is time to move. Even if you love your job and leaving will feel like a step back or giving up, you won't progress if you haven't got your boss advocating and supporting you. Eventually you might have to leave. It is a sign of strength to walk away from toxic environments. Learn from it, grow and succeed.
- Work on yourself. By understanding your strengths, weaknesses, values and boundaries, you will be better equipped to deal with bad bosses in the future. You will find the confidence to speak up and assert what you need early on in the relationship. You will learn what triggers you and what to do about it, and learn to manage your emotions, behaviours and actions.
Once you understand that you have an integral part to play in any relationship, you can take action, assert your boundaries, find a way to move forward together or on your own - you have choice.