10 Tips for Dealing With a Difficult Boss

Improving your relationship with a bad boss can be an important learning experience. Here are 10 tips on how to do just that.

portrait of Nikki Carter
by Nikki Carter

Published May 13, 2022

Edited by Giselle M. Cancio
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10 Tips for Dealing With a Difficult Boss
Image Credit: ljubaphoto / E+ / Getty Images


Almost 50 million people quit their jobs last year in the U.S.

While many people are taking advantage of the job-seekers market to seek better compensation and flexibility, 50% of people quit their jobs because of a bad boss, according to Gallup's State of the American Manager report.

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The impact of your boss on your day-to-day job satisfaction is significant. When bosses consider caring about their employees, workers are more inclined to feel valued and companies can retain top talent.

Yet, clearly that isn't always the case. Having a challenging boss can make you dread work, impact your mental health, and take a serious toll on your life. It's worth exploring and taking steps to improve your situation.

Benefits to Addressing a Difficult Boss

Tension at work is draining. Here are some benefits to managing difficult workplace relationships and navigating your relationship with an aggressive or frustrating supervisor:

  • Expansion of your interpersonal communication skills
  • Stress reduction
  • Improved job satisfaction
  • Increased productivity
  • Potential opportunity for advancement in your career

So, what steps can you take to deal with a difficult boss?

Try to See Both Sides

In any conflict, it can be a good strategy to view the situation from the other side to figure out how to navigate it. We've all been under increased stress in and outside of work, and taking a moment to try to empathize could help you approach your boss differently.

Consider these questions:

We often want to avoid conflict, particularly at work. Making an effort to understand where the other person is coming from could help shift your perspective.

Reflect on Your Actions

Every relationship is two-sided. After considering what may be impacting your boss, you might also reflect on how you might be contributing to a challenging dynamic.

Are you feeling stressed or overwhelmed with work or personal matters? Have you noticed a strain in any of your other relationships? Has your attitude shifted with your supervisor?

If you're feeling dissatisfied with your answers to these questions, taking steps to improve your mental health could help.

If your job involves working from home, it's also worth noting that working remotely can make it more difficult to build relationships and potentially decrease advancement opportunities. Making an extra effort to stay engaged could improve your connection a lot.

Learn Their (and Your) Communication Style

The way we communicate, especially in the workplace, can have a big impact on our relationships. Manipulative, aggressive, and passive-aggressive communication styles are challenging, but there are healthier ways to relate.

Determine your communication style and consider your boss's as well. This could be a key in moving the needle forward in your relationship.

Assertive communication is the best way to communicate in the workplace. Being clear and direct — without being disrespectful — is a great baseline for having productive conversations with your boss and your coworkers.

Be Communicative

Addressing your difficult boss can be intimidating, but try opening the line of communication rather than avoiding them.

If your boss makes you feel incompetent or like they're always breathing down your neck, try overcommunicating so that they feel clued into what you're working on. If they're constantly pinging you for status updates, create a communication strategy so they know when they'll receive info from you.

Create a standard template for your updates to make it easier to manage your workflow. Share ongoing projects, timeframes, and what you've accomplished. Maybe you'll see a shift in your day-to-day communication. (This also counts as you being assertive!)

Don't Gossip

While venting can be one of the ways we bond with our coworkers, contributing to workplace negativity will only make things worse for you. If other coworkers are doing this, you may feel validated in realizing it isn't just you that finds your boss difficult — but save your venting for friends and family, who can offer external perspective and more meaningful support.

That said, be careful how much you're sharing with people and how often you're venting. Negativity is contagious, and inaction is frustrating. Be sure you're considering people's advice and being solution-oriented.

Take Action

Once you've considered the dynamics of the relationship, it could be time for you to address things head-on. One Gallup estimate shows only 50% of employees clearly know what their manager expects from them.

Leadership is a big responsibility, and your boss doesn't have to be the only leader in the room. If your supervisor doesn't exhibit the traits of an effective leader, there's no reason you can't.

Coaching up can be scary, but your boss receiving feedback from someone who works for them could be a valuable experience.

Prepare for the conversation ahead of time. Share your perspective and try to avoid blame. Think of solutions to improve the relationship and offer them up. Scheduling regular touch bases, asking for their feedback on your performance, and being as compassionate as possible can help remove some of the tension.

Document Everything

Best case scenario: You can change this difficult relationship. However, we understand that isn't always the case. While navigating this dynamic, document your communication and work accomplishments.

Send written communication to your personal email to maintain a record. Use an external planner to write down meetings and conversations. Provide detailed recaps if the interaction was particularly challenging.

Building your case ahead of time can help you explain your side of things if your boss chooses to pursue action against you.

Seek Out an Advocate

While many of our tips center around understanding and communication, we don't want to downplay the toxicity of a bad boss. If you've made the above attempts with positive intentions and don't see an improvement — or worse, you're experiencing retaliation — find a resource to support you at work.

Addressing your concerns with human resources is an important step. It's their job to investigate employee concerns and help find a solution. At the very least, by reaching out to HR, you've taken the first step to formal documentation of a tenuous working environment.

Seeking guidance from a trusted mentor or another supervisor can also help you find a solution. It's likely that others see you as an asset to the organization and will want to help you take steps to remedy the situation.

Note: Remember not to leverage a coworker for this. If they have similar concerns, advise them to follow the same steps you are.

Focus On the Positive

Assess the pros and cons of your current role. Finding ways to be more engaged with the positive aspects of your job could help offset the negatives.

Think about your career trajectory and strategize your next steps. Outline how your current role can best serve you in the future and plan an exit strategy. This will help you see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Learning how to deal with a difficult boss is an important opportunity for you and your career. Examples of poor leadership can help us become better leaders ourselves.

Play the Field

If you can't find the silver lining of your current role or improve your relationship with your boss, it's time to think about what's next.

While still employed, polish up your resume, start networking, and schedule time to look for new opportunities. (Hint: The documentation you've made of your accomplishments can be a great resource for moving forward.)

The Great Resignation is happening for a reason — it's a good time to look for a job. Put yourself first and find a better opportunity.

Know When Enough Is Enough

The bottom line is this: No job is worth your mental health. A toxic work environment with a draining boss is enough reason to leave.

Your manager's job is to build trust and rapport, facilitate a positive working environment, and support their team, no matter the challenges they face in or out of the office. If you've exhausted all of your efforts to change the dynamics of a difficult relationship, you should feel confident in moving forward.

Once you're ready to take that next step, make every effort to leave on a positive note with your head held high. Gather your thoughts and take time to assess what's next and best for you. Learning how to deal with a difficult boss is an invaluable lesson in your career. Remember, the situation isn't permanent.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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