7 Strategies To Deal With A Challenging Manager
October 28, 2016
There’s no disputing that the life sciences field is full of intelligent, accomplished individuals—yet that’s not to say that they’re all highly skilled in the art of management.
A common mistake made by many companies is to promote those who are the top of their field, rather than promoting those who can lead a team well—often leading to poor outcomes for the team, the company, and the manager themselves.
It can be downright difficult to work under the direction of a manager who isn’t great at motivating their team, micromanages, has anger issues, or just isn’t very competent. However, it’s vitally important to come up with some strategies to competently and maturely ‘manage your manager’ if you’re not going to allow yourself to be overwhelmed by frustration or damage your working relationship with your boss.
1. Analyse your own behaviour for confirmation bias.
Is the manager really that bad, or are you just seizing on every little thing they do to confirm your existing poor opinion of them? Observe their behaviour dispassionately for a day or two, and consider what their motivations might be for making the choices or management strategies they make. (And do so in good faith by always attempting to give them the benefit of the doubt.)
Even if you don’t significantly alter your perception of them during this process, at least you will have undertaken a more rigorous analysis than simply assuming that they’re hopeless managers, and you might get some valuable insights into their management style and how you can make it work better for you.
2. Insert a pause before you react.
When a manager pushes our buttons, it can be all too easy to snap or reveal our annoyance in the heat of the moment—thereby damaging the manager-employee relationship in a moment of frustration. When you feel your heart rate rising or frustration threatening to boil over in reaction to your manager’s latest announcement/temper tantrum/show of ineptitude, learn to assert control over your emotions and insert a pause before you respond or react in any way.
Take deep breaths, notice the stress responses in your body, and take a moment to consider your next move. This is a powerful strategy for defusing the manager’s power to annoy or upset you.
3. Put your discussions in writing.
If you’ve got a boss who is always changing their mind or forgetting what you’d already agreed upon, then the first step to dealing with the challenge is to write everything down. Take notes in verbal meetings, or at least quickly write it down in an email afterwards, and send it to them for confirmation.
If you think this might cause offence, just brush it off with a casual ‘I really want to make sure I get things right, would you mind just confirming that I understood what you wanted?’ That way you put the focus back on you, rather than challenging their poor management skills.
4. Focus on what they do well (and what you can learn from them.)
Yes, they might be micromanagers or hide in their offices all day rather than lead the team… but what do they excel at? Where does a weakness in your skill set correspond with a strength in theirs?
There will inevitably be something they do well that you could do better in—they wouldn’t have gotten this far in the company without some merit— so seek to learn from them.
5. Learn their triggers to avoid conflict.
Often, we walk straight into conflict with managers without realising that there were giant signposts along the way warning us that trouble lay ahead. Notice their natural management style and try to amend your working style to suit theirs better. (No-one said this would be fun, but it will be effective.)
It might be something simple like leaving them alone in the mornings if they’re not chatty morning people like you, or not challenging the manager openly when you know they’ve got something wrong. If they like to correspond by email, mimic that style, or if they have quite a formal demeanour, match your conversation style to them.
6. Don’t let it affect your work ethic
You would be far from the first employee to lose motivation under the direction of a poor manager. Unfortunately, things rarely end well for those people who slack off or become toxic influences in the workplace because they’re frustrated with management. (If you have done this before, you’ll know how easy it is to slip into bad habits when you’re unhappy at work!)
You owe it to yourself and your other team members to keep performing, so don’t let yourself down by allowing your work ethic and employee reputation to slide.
7. Learn from their poor example.
Some of the most important lessons in life are learnt from our worst experiences: the ones that teach us what not to be. Use this as an exercise in forming your own core beliefs about how managers (or anyone in the workplace) should behave in positions of responsibility. If you become a manager one day, you’ll know exactly what not to do.
A challenging manager is just that: a challenge. We all encounter them at some point in our careers, but by utilising these strategies you can reduce conflict and stress, and learn some valuable lessons along the way.