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how to deal with a difficult boss and succeed

4 min readpublished 11 August 2021updated 01 June 2023

How to Deal with a Difficult Boss? Imagine the following situation. You have a job. It’s a good job. You like your current responsibilities and there are opportunities for growth. The company you work for offers a good salary, nice bonuses, and a flexible schedule. Your team members are great professionals and pleasant people in general. Everything seems to be perfect, with one exception… your boss. For some reason, this person comes across as toxic, condescending and disrespectful, and you don’t have any idea what to do when your boss disrespects you or even wants you to leave.

Working in such an environment can be a real challenge, but there are things you can try in order to improve the situation before you decide to start another career. We’ve prepared several strategies for how to deal with a manager who doesn’t manage, doesn’t support you, and doesn’t help you grow as a professional. Let’s begin with the basics.

Are you sure you’re dealing with a difficult boss?

People are not always objective and it might be that the uneasy relationship with your supervisor results, at least in part, from your approach and attitude. Before you take the time to read tips on how to deal with a condescending boss, make sure you’re actually dealing with one.

To figure it out, EPAM Anywhere People professionals recommend taking a pen and paper, or your laptop, and writing down a list of questions:

  • Am I the only person who has trouble with my manager?
  • Does (s)he have any reasonable basis for behaving this way?
  • Can it be that I simply don’t like him/her, without work-related reasons?
  • Is my manager professional?

Once you write down the questions, consider and answer them honestly. If one or two of your answers are negative, the situation isn’t as bad as you think, and you may be able to improve it just by being more objective and reconsidering your attitude toward your boss. If three or four of your answers are negative, we have some bad news: you really are dealing with a difficult boss. Fear not, it is possible to improve the situation. Read on to find out how.

Why it’s important to find ways to handle a difficult manager

If you understand that engaging with your supervisor creates pressure at work, but you don’t do anything to change it, this can result in numerous unpleasant consequences, ultimately causing unrelenting workplace stress or even burnout. Making an effort to handle the situation, rather than just suffering in silence, can lead to several benefits:

  • Healthier workplace atmosphere. If you don’t try to settle a conflict at work, the tension between you and your manager is likely to increase, affecting not just the two of you, but potentially your entire team or office. It may be that simple small talk can improve the situation dramatically.
  • Reduced chance of stress and illness. It’s not a secret that constant stress leads to health issues. By doing your best to handle unpleasant situations at work, you can reduce your stress levels.
  • Increased job productivity. You likely have noticed that it’s very difficult to concentrate on work tasks when you are worried about personal issues. Once you can stop thinking about your conflict with your supervisor, you’ll free up time and energy to focus on your job.

So let’s consider how to deal with an incompetent boss. We have some answers in the next section.

How to deal with a manager who doesn’t manage: 8 winning strategies

If you constantly ask yourself how to deal with a difficult boss, your first inclination may be to change your job. And you may get to that step, but there are less disruptive and dramatic steps you can try first. The tips below may help you improve your relationship with your manager and let you stay at your (more enjoyable) job.

1. Empathize

Our tendency is to see things exclusively from our own perspective and forget that another person can see the exact same situation differently. Before judging your manager, try to understand why (s)he behaves this way. Try to find out what’s behind his/her behavior. Does (s)he have to work with demanding top-level managers? Is his/her job stressful and full of pressure? Is (s)he experiencing some personal troubles at the moment?

Once you understand what drives your supervisor to behave in a certain way or why they might feel threatened by you, your deeper appreciation of the situation may make it more bearable. Remember, you may not be the only one who is having troubles at work.

2. Focus on the positive

    However unpleasant any person can seem to us, there’s probably something good in them. The same is true for your boss. Try to notice something good in his/her character, the way (s)he works, or his/her attitudes toward others. Maybe your boss has an original style, a dedication to worthy causes, or a sense of humor. Identifying even a small thing about your manager that you like or find relatable can leave you feeling a bit more friendly, which can dial down the tension between you.

    If you really can’t find a single thing about your supervisor to think positively about, try focusing on the positive aspects of your job. Free your thoughts from your boss for a period of time and instead think about how much you like what you do, the great people who surround you, or an upcoming working event that you’re excited about. After all, your boss isn’t the only person who should occupy your mind.

    “Sometimes you may see this as a new challenge. The situation with your manager is going to give you some other tools and resources, in a "how not to do it" form. Later, you will be able to understand and pursue the proper way to do it. In the end, we must try to take advantage of any demanding or stressful situation.”

    HernandoSoftware Engineer at EPAM Anywhere, Colombia, Bogota

    3. Try to establish a connection

    No matter how difficult a situation is, you always have choices. You can hate your boss or try to understand him/her. You can call him/her incompetent or focus on the things (s)he does well. You can avoid your supervisor or establish a connection, even a small one. By this, we mean that you can incorporate little things every day to break the ice between you. It’s not that difficult to say “Good morning!”, wish someone a good weekend, or even offer to grab a coffee for your manager.

    By taking these small steps, you may begin to notice that your boss doesn’t irritate you as much as (s)he did before. Perhaps, (s)he will feel the same way about you.

    4. Speak to your boss

    If your troubled relationship with your boss goes beyond a simple “I don’t like him/her”, and (s)he blocks your progress at work, you’ll have to take real action. The first step is to speak to your boss. It might be that (s)he doesn’t even realize that his/her actions negatively impact your work.

    Show your leadership skills and book a meeting to discuss your job-related concerns with your supervisor. Don’t just vent to coworkers, since that can make the situation worse. When you do speak with your boss, it’s important to choose your words wisely and focus on your desired results rather than on personalities. By speaking calmly and politely, you’ll be able to better communicate your thoughts, and you’ll demonstrate that you want to make things better. Who knows, taking the initiative to discuss things could be the start of a new, better phase in your relationship.

    5. Think one step ahead

    If your boss reminds you about every task you should do, re-checks every result you deliver, and you have a constant feeling that (s)he micromanages you, you need a strategy.

    You can minimize your supervisor’s involvement if you anticipate his/her expectations. Watch your supervisor and figure out what tasks (s)he usually reminds you of. Once you know what (s)he expects, meet the expectations in advance to demonstrate that (s)he doesn’t have to monitor every step you take. If you show that you can be self-motivated, responsible, and professional, your boss may feel reluctant about controlling you on a regular basis.

    “Difficult bosses generally have repetitive behavior, they feel that they earn the right to pressure employees when the assigned tasks are not done in the way that they expect. That is why, when we encounter a situation like this, we must disarm our rival, with more proactive work, detailed explanations, and a positive attitude. This will not only make our life happier, but it will also show that our work will continue to be extraordinary even without the support of our boss, and hey, maybe you can teach your boss other ways to do amazing work.”

    HernandoSoftware Engineer at EPAM Anywhere, Colombia, Bogota

    6. Set boundaries

    If your boss continues to be toxic, condescending, or disrespectful, try not to let it affect your professional attitude toward your job. Your supervisor’s actions say a lot about them – they do not have to define you. Practice setting boundaries between you and your manager’s poor soft skills. When you have a meeting or work-related discussion, focus exclusively on work matters. If your boss tries to provoke you, don’t be drawn in to a conflict. Instead, stick to the high ground and bring your discussion back to work issues.

    7. Take a break

    Maybe you’re tired of communicating with your boss every day. Perhaps all your efforts to improve the relationship don’t seem to be yielding results. Take a breather. Don’t force yourself to deal with your boss daily, or multiple times each day, if doing so feels relentless. Try to plan some upcoming work days in such a way that you don’t have to communicate with your supervisor.

    Spending a couple of days in a calm work environment may help you be more productive, and taking a break from the challenging communications may even help you come up with a good way to effectively deal with your manager moving forward.

    8. Quit

    If you have tried all of the strategies listed above, and you continue asking yourself how to deal with a difficult boss, it may be time to leave. Really. Sometimes it’s better to stop struggling and change your life and career to pursue better opportunities. 

    At EPAM Anywhere, for example, there is a possibility to switch managers throughout one's career,  and we always make sure there is room for change.

    “If none of the previous options work for you, you can rest knowing that you did everything possible. If you can’t move to another place in the same company, it’s time to find a new opportunity in another company. You can be sure that you now have some additional tools and are more prepared for new challenges.”

    HernandoSoftware Engineer at EPAM Anywhere, Colombia, Bogota

    Summary: Avoid future difficult bosses

    If you decide to leave, you probably don’t ever want to face the situation where you wonder how to deal with an incompetent boss again. Dealing with difficult people at work is exhausting and can lead to stress and burnout. Our advice is not just theoretical. We know how to achieve results in practice and would like to share our knowledge with you. We hope that after reading this post you won't need to google "what to do when your boss disrespects you" or "how to deal with a condescending boss" anymore.

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