How to deal with difficult bosses

by Richard Templar / 1/11/2018 11:48:06 AM


If your boss is particularly difficult, it can be hard to distract them – but you’ll probably have noticed that they’re easier to deal with when they’re pre-occupied elsewhere, if only because you encounter them a bit less often. However, for just about everyone else, one of the keys to coping is to find them something to do.

This works on several levels. First off, a project of some kind gives them something to focus on other than winding you up. You need to find them a relatively autonomous job, where they’re out of the

way of the people they might otherwise antagonise. So if you’re planning a big family holiday together, you might ask your sister-in-law to take charge of all the travel arrangements, or researching and booking the accommodation.

Even if you’re not in charge, you can recommend her: ‘Hey, I think Ali would be brilliant at organising the travel. Ali, you’re so organised and we don’t want to risk any last-minute crises with so many of us going.’

Think carefully about the right role – if you put her in charge of food in a self-catering place, she could drive everyone mad telling them when they’re on shopping/cooking/washing-up duty. It depends what her particular skills are and in what way she’s hard to deal with (and whether it’s just you, or whether the whole family find her frustrating).

Where it’s useful, you can ease things further by finding a job that puts some physical distance between the tricky person and anyone else who needs a break from them. You know, send someone off to research something, or go and visit potential venues or something.

For another thing, whatever it is that makes someone difficult, they’ll be easier if they feel valued than if they feel rejected. Suppose you’re running a team at work and there’s a big exhibition coming up. If you have a difficult team member and you try to keep them at arm’s length, they’re going to feel excluded and frustrated. That’s not going to help. Whereas if you make them responsible

for planning and organising all the materials to go on the stand, they’ll feel important and appreciated. And that’s got to be a less bad option. Make sure they know you’ve given them that role because they’re really reliable/so experienced/a terrific organiser/have a great eye for detail. Let them take pride in doing a good job, because that will make everyone’s lives easier.

This has another advantage too, because now the rest of the team, family, group or whoever, is going to feel happier for having a bit of space between themselves and their difficult colleague/relative/friend. So they’ll work better and the team will be more cohesive.

And once the difficult person has been a successful (if pre-occupied) part of a team once, they’re that bit more likely to make things work next time. If you’re their boss, you can use it as a positive experience when you’re working through their people skills with them.

If you’re their sister-in-law, maybe you’ve found them a niche as the family travel organiser in future, where they can do a good job and everyone else can relax more easily.

A project gives them something to focus on other than winding you up.

The Rules of People by Richard Templar, is out now, published by Pearson, priced £10.99. For more information see:

Latest Book

Cover for Management of Portfolios