- vague and imprecise about their expectations
- inconsistent in their actions
- critical of staff and slow to praise
- driven by ego
- promoted for the wrong reasons (e.g. because they have served the business well, instead of for their people management skills)
- affected by issues outside of work
- under stress and pressure
- just a little soft and not possessing the toughness required in being a boss
- not on the same page as employees, (e.g. because of a poorly thought-out incentive scheme)
Both bosses and employees need to remember that their relationship is mutually interdependent. Bosses have to be aware of each employee's capacity to do the job and not be overly pushy in that area. Rather than "do unto others as you would have others do unto you", its better to "do unto others as they like being done unto."
Take an active role
While bosses have responsibilities to treat their staff well, subordinates shouldn't take a passive role in their relationships with supervisors. I believes that understanding your bosses management style can go a long way toward preventing difficulties with them.
If your boss is a reader, they'd prefer you came to them with written requests; if a listener they'd rather that employees talk it out with them. Involvers may appear to be involved too much, but employees need to register this and not resist it. With hands-off bosses, their non-availability or just do it attitude is just how they like to interact with staff, it's not an insult.
In a new job it's a good idea to clarify expectations early in the relationship. This can be done informally over a coffee. Say to the boss, 'what does your picture of success look like, in terms of my role? What do you want to see a lot of, or very little of and I'll see if I can match those or do better.' If the relationship is older and experiencing problems, it's not too late to do something about it. Put your hand up and say 'how are we going to best work together? Here are my wants, tell me about yours and let's build a bridge and get to the other side'. Honest, two-way communication is the best way to engage your boss.
Turn a bad situation around
In cases where a difficult boss is causing ongoing problems, it's a good idea to bring in a third party to help discuss the issues. This person needs to focus on the issues, not the personalities, and see if common ground can be reached. The two parties should clarify their goals and make promises that they can honour.
Focus on the issues; don't waste time on trivia.
An employee can give the boss quality information and the boss and employee can check each other's personality out. They might be complete opposites (e.g. a controlling boss who's paranoid about resistance and an ambitious driver personality who feels smothered and not trusted), but it is important to move off personalities and remember why you are there. At the end of the day the employee and the boss are there for much the same reasons. Each wants to come to work to make a difference, to succeed, to be appreciated for a job well done and to be kept in the information loop. If the discussion becomes too heated and difficult then call a time-out and start again the next day with a fresh mind.
Dangerous to go over their head
It is very dangerous to go over your boss's head when you are experiencing problems. There are times when you need to do that but it's a risky career move. If you go over the boss's head, it's likely the boss will want your head in return. Times when it's a good idea to do this are when you're aware of your boss's dishonesty, immoral, fraudulent or deceitful behaviour or (if you have enough evidence) their lack of ability as a manager. Some bosses treat their staffs like rubbish but bad news rises slowly to the surface and your boss's superiors might not be aware. If going to your boss's superior, say: "Here is the real story from where I sit. Here are some examples [of the behaviour] we'd like your help."
Accept some responsibility
It is very easy to blame the boss. Whenever I hear "personality conflict" or "I had a bad boss" in a recruitment interview I conduct, I think to myself, 'well, hang on a minute, most bosses didn't get to where they are by being stupid', so I'm very wary of employees who blame their boss without accepting some responsibility themselves. There are three sides to every one of these stories and staff have to understand that bosses, being the human they are, sometimes get inaccurate informations and they can have good reasons for the behaviour they're showing. Many employees have low emotional intelligence and a low understanding of how things are done which can cause them to interpret reasonable behaviour as unreasonable.
Follow these 10 tips for avoiding conflict with the boss:
- Make sure your boss knows what you expect
- Respect your boss's time. Take the important stuff to them and deal with trivial things yourself
- Focus on open and honest communication, whether it's positive or negative, and avoid attributing blame
- Maintain a focus on doing your job and check in with your boss to see how you're doing often
- Don't surprise your boss - if there's bad news coming let them know early, before it hits them hard
- Be a 'can do' person. 'Can do' people - those who look at what can be done and fix situations - find favour with bosses, while 'can not' people - those who affix blame - they are a pain to deal with
- Go the extra mile - to a point
- Have sense of humour at work and relax
- Ask lots of questions and listen to and respect your boss
- Go to work for fun and profit. If those things aren't happening, ask yourself why you're there.
Serious issues - get out
If you are aware of your boss's illegal or immoral behaviour, get out as fast as you possibly can. There are no winners in these situations and if you hang around you're condoning their behaviour implicitly.