How to deal with a terrible boss, according to a strengths coach

How to deal with a terrible boss, according to a strengths coach

“I love being micromanaged,” said no one ever.

Just as great teachers shape a child’s school engagement and can have a huge impact on a child’s engagement at school, managers have the potential to make or break employee performance and happiness at work.

Consulting firm Gallup shared research that found managers contribute to at least 70 per cent of the variance in employee engagement.

More shocking statistics reveal that one in two employees have left a job to escape their manager at some point.

Facing challenges with a difficult boss is common but can take a toll on your health, wellbeing, productivity and engagement.

Here are ten actionable tips to navigate this situation:

1. Understand your (and their) triggers

David Rock from the NeuroLeadership Institute offers a simple framework called SCARF for recognising why we react the way we do in situations (fight, flight or freeze), such as dealing with a difficult boss.

SCARF encompasses Status (our relative importance), Certainty (our ability to predict the future), Autonomy (our sense of control), Relatedness (how safe we feel with others), and Fairness (how fair we perceive the exchanges between people).

Try to understand why your boss behaves the way they do. For example, they may be under pressure from higher-ups, impacting their own Status, or dealing with other issues we might not know about.

2. Get to know your boss

See if you can get to know your boss on a personal level.

This tunes into the Relatedness aspect of SCARF, and how connected and safe we feel to others.

See if you can find connections and things you have in common, so you can relate more.

3. Build allies

Is someone in your team receiving the same treatment as you? Is there a lack of Fairness in how you are treated, or is this a systematic issue?

Cultivate positive relationships with co-workers who may share your concerns about your boss. Strength in numbers can sometimes influence change or provide support.

4. Share your strengths

Take the CliftonStrengths Assessment to identify your talents. Share them with your manager along with your needs, like clear expectations and regular check-ins, not check-ups.

Autonomy is key; when outcomes are clear, employees can excel in tasks that play to their unique talents and strengths.

5. Offer feedback

When giving feedback to a challenging boss, try the SBI (Situation-Behaviour-Impact) model:

  • Situation: Describe the specific instance.
  • Behaviour: Clearly articulate the observed behaviour.
  • Impact: Explain the impact on you and how it made you feel. Nobody can dispute your feelings.

Keep it constructive, choose the right time, stay calm and be prepared for their response. This takes some courage, but you might get the response, “I wish you told me; I had no idea you felt that way!”

6. Keep a record

If things persist and spiral, keep detailed records of your interactions, including emails, calls and meeting notes. This can provide evidence if you need to address HR or higher management questions.

Career Unstuck by Charlotte Blair

Career Unstuck by Charlotte Blair.

7. Know when to escalate

If the situation becomes unbearable or crosses legal or ethical boundaries, do not hesitate to escalate the issue to HR or higher management.

Present your documented evidence and seek assistance in finding a resolution. Sometimes, senior managers or HR have no idea of the issues if nobody speaks up.

8. Don’t suffer alone

Speak to someone you trust, such as a partner, friend or colleague about how having a difficult boss affects you.

If you need an independent ear, seek out a coach, a counsellor, or a medical professional.

9. Consider your options

Assess whether the situation is temporary or negatively impacts your career growth and mental health. Explore options such as transferring to a different department.

10. Leave

In some cases, the only option is to take leave to have a break from the situation, or you may need to leave the job altogether.

Don’t be afraid to put yourself and your health first. Research indicates that toxic bosses can seriously impact health and wellbeing, increasing the risk of heart attacks or strokes by 60 per cent.

Many unhappy employees I’ve spoken with regret not leaving a toxic workplace sooner because they felt stuck. Sometimes, the best choice for your health and happiness is to move on.

Remember, you are not alone in facing challenges with a difficult boss. By taking proactive steps and prioritising your wellbeing, you can navigate these situations with resilience, courage and a support crew.

Charlotte Blair

This article was written by Charlotte Blair, author of Career Unstuck: How To Play To Your Strengths To Find Freedom And Purpose In Your Work Again.

Charlotte is an ICF coach and one of Australia’s most established and experienced Gallup Accredited strengths coaches. She works with individuals, managers and teams across the world to help them discover and use their strengths to meet their business and personal goals.

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