• How to deal with a nightmare boss

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    By Bernardo Moya

    There is no single entity known as the “nightmare boss”, but here a few phrases you might recognise. 

    • ‘I want the impossible…yesterday!’
    • ‘You’re useless, you idiot!’
    • ‘Where did I put that thingummy?’
    • ‘What is my job, exactly?’
    • ‘You can’t tell me anything, I already know about it!’
    • ‘Didn’t you know about it? I’m sure I told you…’

    These are the sorts of phrases you’ll hear from the overly demanding boss, the belittling bully, the chaotic boss, the dreamer, the know-it-all and the boss who doesn’t really communicate.

    Each of these traits has their methods of being dealt with, some with the right word or a change in approach, and others with more drastic action. However, the first thing you need consider is – is it you, or the boss where the problem lies? Or maybe somewhere in between?

    To work that out, it’s necessary to step back from the emotional wheel that can be continually wound up by a difficult boss, take a breath and look at things in the round. Sometimes it can be the simplest of things that make the difference.

    Some people, for example, are logical sequential thinkers. This means approach a task at the beginning and work out the steps on the way. This approach sits uncomfortably with the non-sequential logical thinker, who raises information as they think of it, have an order in their head… eventually… but don’t present information in this way. When these two types meet, the non-sequential thinker gets frustrated with what seem like obvious or irrelevant questions, while the sequential thinker just wants a clear direction and framework to operate in. 

    Then there are the big vision thinkers and the detail thinkers. Again, this can lead to confusion in communication, but bear in mind too that when they work well together, the detailed PA and the big vision boss can have a symbiotic relationship – the one filling in the gaps in the other’s aspirations!

    There are many other thinking styles that might be causing the problems, so be patient and make a study of your boss to see if there’s an obvious reason for the nightmare element!

    However, no amount of study will deal with the belittling bully. In this case, it’s a matter of learning to detach your emotions and hit that Zen state – or, alternatively, if that doesn’t suit you, look for work elsewhere. You aren’t paid to be a punch-bag, after all. That said, there are ways to manage the bully. One is to ensure that you stand your ground, firmly and calmly. Bullies tend to latch on to people who unconsciously show submission. Don’t have a blazing row, but remember, you have a choice to communicate what you are willing to accept and to make that clear. It is surprising how many bosses are unaware of their unconscious behaviour, and slip into patterns of being overbearing under stress, without knowing iy.

    To avoid misunderstandings with a poor communicator, one trick is to listen carefully to what your boss says and then repeat it back to them, asking them clearly – “is that what you meant?” This trick reassures a nervy boss that you understood the task and you can be trusted to finish it.

    With the boss who seems over-demanding, work out if there’s a pattern to their demands. Do they have a particular attitude to working hours that doesn’t match yours? Do they get agitated if something is one second beyond deadline? If so, work out how you can always bring it in ahead of time.

    Some bosses have great instincts but terrible organisational skills. Let’s face it, that’s why they have a PA. So if you’re dealing with such a boss, it’s time to take them in hand, keep them to schedule and manage them in a pro-active way. Perhaps this what they and you need to make it work.

    Remember, dynamics in relationships can change with the right approach. There are countless ways to “work out” your boss, so it looks like as well as doing all that work and organisation they’re asking for, you’re going to have to become an amateur psychologist. To do that, watch and listen. And most of all, apply your patience. If you start to treat part of your task as getting to a point where you “get” your boss, where you understand them, then the troubles on the way are steps towards a better working relationship. 

    Ideally, you’ll be able to fill in the places where they are less strong, and they will begin to understand your capabilities in turn. Of course, there’s many a slip betwixt cup and the lip, but ask yourself, what do you need to learn to really manage your boss?

    Bernardo Moya is a leading personal development coach, founder of The Best Youand author of The Question: Find Your True Purpose, which is published by Wiley, priced at £10.99, and is available now from Amazon.co.uk.