Are you a difficult boss that gets talked about by staff?

A lot of business owners seem to be oblivious to the affect they have on their people.

I got a very upset and emotional call from a colleague recently about an ongoing issue with her boss. She said she wanted to leave her job. We started talking and I asked her a few questions to try and get the facts. Too often the facts get distorted because of the emotion.


It seems there are many managers and business owners who seem to be oblivious about the impact they have on their people. But the exit interviews conducted in some companies can provide an insight into why people leave, and often it’s all about a difficult boss.


In fact there have been so many conflict situations I hear about, I have made a program to teach staff how to manage their difficult bosses. It might be a good idea for some bosses to see what staff are being taught!


They learn to diagnose the problem and focus on the facts without emotion. They will be considering specific behaviours and situations where issues arise and will be checking it out with others to see if they also have issues.


Then they will learn to use one or more of these seven strategies.


1. Reconnect

If you have turned off, given up, or feel angry:

  • Start talking to them again like a human being.
  • Re-establish a relationship.
  • Confront your fear and turn it around. Tell yourself, “I will manage this. I won’t go on feeling bad.”

This is good for a manager who ignores you, is critical, patronising, often absent, or doesn’t deliver on promises, and you have got increasingly angry. Surprise them and engage them, ask for advice, seek feedback. Manage your own emotions.


2. Proactive praise

Focus on the behaviours you want to see in your manager and use praise (not sarcastically) when they do something good. Often people generalise that everything about a boss is unacceptable. Psychological research shows that rewarding the behaviour you want, plus ignoring the behaviour you don’t want, can be very effective over time.


3. Manage upwards

Take the lead with a boss who is indecisive, incompetent, inconsistent, incoherent, or ignorant – instead of getting angry. You can negotiate, plan, prioritise and present strategies and suggestions to how you think things could work. Take the initiative and build your CV instead of complaining.


4. Give direct feedback

If the behaviours are unacceptable, give feedback. Don’t delay – give specific examples, explain how it affects your work, and request specific changes. Great strategy for a boss who is rude, intimidates you, has anger outbursts, invades your privacy or makes unrealistic demands.


5. Seek help and report it

If the manager is extremely nasty, doesn’t respect rules and legal rights, is unethical or abusive, you might need help if feedback hasn’t worked:

  • Make notes on specific occasions.
  • Report to the HR department in your organisation or your manager’s manager.
  • Counselling support might help.


6. Leave

You can always leave if it gets too bad, or move to another area of the business. Research your alternatives, but do not stay stuck in a toxic situation.


7. Ignore

If you have to stay and the behaviour is not totally dysfunctional and not constant, you need to adapt your mindset and learn to rise above it. Stop indoctrinating yourself about how bad it is and avoid mixing with other negative people in the organisation. Plan ahead for negative comments: “I won’t get upset by this. Move on. Ignore”. And don’t take issues home.



So beware if you are a difficult boss!

Eve Ash founded Seven Dimensions in 1979 and, in 1986, formed Ash.Quarry Productions with fellow psychologist Peter Quarry. They have produced more than 500 programs and assessment tools and have won 140 awards for creativity and excellence. Their programs are distributed in over 40 countries.

Eve is a popular motivational speaker and facilitator and won the National Westpac Business Owner Award at the 1999 Telstra Business Women’s Awards. She is a patron of Marie Stopes International Australia. Eve co-wrote with Rob Gerrand, Rewrite Your Life! (Penguin, 2002) and Rewrite Your Relationships (Penguin, 2004).


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