This article was written by Logan Harper, community manager for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Government’s online MPA programs. For more information on public administration degrees follow MPA@UNC on Twitter at @MPAatUNC.
Whether you have the stereotypical difficult boss or a supervisor who’s worn too thin or uncommunicative, your circumstances can be improved. However, it is you who must take the first steps. Through rational and well-timed action you can ‘manage your manager.’
‘Managing Your Manager’ isn’t about manipulation, or pulling puppet strings. Nor is it about maneuvering or brown-nosing. To manage your manager, you must have empathy: remove your ego and maintain conscious rationality. You can effectively communicate and take proactive steps that will lead to the best results for you, your boss and the organization writ large.
When confronted with the difficult boss, first, take a breath and a moment to try to understand what objective reasons might there be for your boss’ difficult behavior. Ask yourself if they’re like this normally? Is their recent behavior possibly due to an increased workload or some other additional stress? If so, then it’s likely their behavior can be modified. However, if their negative behavior is chronic and habitual in abuse and hostility, it is less likely that a positive turn of events can be achieved. In such a case, consider seeking counsel from either a trusted mentor or human resources professional.
After you’ve assessed why your boss might be difficult, be sure to review your own negative emotions regarding their behavior so that you do not engage in self-defeating behavior. Do not negatively counter attack.
Once you have gained understanding and clarity regarding your boss’ possible reasoning and your own negative emotions, you may work to communicate your concerns within a positive framework that is neither adversary nor confrontational.
If you are being criticized, first, listen to your manager’s comments in full so you can respond most effectively and in entirety. Maintain your patience. Try to see the criticism not as a personal attack but as valuable information on how you and your work performance can improve. If you feel that you have been unfairly criticized, do not confront but rather discuss your concerns. As in any relationship, try to handle honest complaints in a manner that strengthens your relationship rather than damaging it.
You can empower yourself and mitigate such moments of criticism by encouraging candid, timely and consistent communications to and from management on the status of their career with the organization. Employees who are empowered with more information and responsibility regarding their place within the organization are able to better cope with work stress and better understand their relationship with management.
Beyond ‘difficult bosses’, it is always to your benefit to anticipate the needs of management. This can be quite a difficult task, but can be achieved through active listening and taking note of how your knowledge and skills can add value.
Seek out other interests and responsibilities within your organization and discuss these interests with your boss. Being fully prepared when called upon, you will not only cultivate a more positive relationship with your manager, but also demonstrate how invaluable you are and worthy of taking on an increased role.
Remember, the manager-employee relationship is one of mutual dependence. By understanding and anticipating how you can best supplement your boss’ strengths, weaknesses, priorities and work style, you will create a more favorable present and future for your career.