Bad bosses: we’ve all had one. Whether they’re micro-managers, tantrum-prone or preoccupied, Australia's office politics expert Cindy Tonkin reveals nine ideas for how to cope with a difficult manager.
1. Work out what pleases them
Bosses are people. Just like you do with clients, parents and spouses, find out what they want and give it to them. It’s no surprise; they will like you better. A gift could be something tangible like chocolate or diamonds, but it’s more lasting to find out what they value: Tim loves to be loved. Tell him you love him (literally). Brad likes to know things are under control: say “everything’s under control” and show him a plan. Sandra likes to be informed. Start every email with “just so you’re informed”. Discover what value is important to your boss and work out how to satisfy it every day.
2. Speak their language
Andrea loves to see pictures, graphs and colour: Update her with something she can see. Anthony needs to hear good (or bad) news: Make sure either is delivered in your most pleasant sounding voice. He’ll love it if you read to him as well. Susan wants to experience your successes: Walk her through them, let her meet your prospects for a minute. Give her a moment to really get what you’re on about. Your boss has a preferred language (visual, auditory or kinesthetic are the names for the languages). Speak it.
3. Read their mind
This may seem impossible, but what most impresses your boss is when you anticipate what they want. This means completing a task and answering the next question before they ask it. Let’s say you’ve created a Facebook page that brings 20 new leads. Don’t just report back on the new leads. Read your boss’ mind: uncover where the leads come from, identify the segment and evaluate value of Facebook as a lead generation tool. Ask yourself ‘what next?’, and be ready to answer it if they ask.
4. If they’re picky, give them half
Some bosses just don’t seem to be able to keep their hands off your work. So don’t give them the completed thing to pick holes in, use their brains to help you get the job done. Don’t go in with a fully formed strategy for improving the back office processing; go in with a newborn strategy. People feel better about a strategy when they feel they have created it themselves. Allow your boss to have that illusion of control. And stop frustrating yourself.
5. Stay out of the way
One short-term strategy for managing a bad boss is the simplest. Just stay out of their way. Keep your nose clean and stay under the radar.
6. Work out how they judge you
Anne is not a morning person. She found out her boss judged her on how early she got to work. She managed her boss more effectively when arrived at the office at 7am. Her boss felt Anne was working harder, even though she spent the same number of hours at the office.
You may have formal performance indicators like deals completed or dollars billed, but check out if your boss has a hidden measuring system too. They may measure you by the quality of your relationships in the office, the sound of your voice, how stressed you seem, or what time you get to the office in the morning.
7. Crowd-source an answer
Don’t reinvent the wheel: other people have worked for this person before. Some of them have succeeded well. Take them for a drink and ask for tips.
8. Reframe how you see them
When Rosie pictures her difficult boss as a four-year-old in nappies she can’t help but smile. Smiling changes how you interact with the world. When you suppress negative emotions your blood pressure increases. People see this. Try picturing them with nappies and a dummy, and see if that changes how you interact with them. And never tell anyone what you’re doing.
9. Make plans
Finally if you have tried all there is to try, then make plans to move on. If you can’t get on with this boss, work out how you can get away from them. Soon.
Cindy Tonkin is the author of The Australian Consultant’s Guide – setting up your consultancy business profitably and painlessly and Consulting Mastery: being good is not enough. She is Australia’s office politics expert. Find out more at www.politicalacumen.com.au.