How To Handle Having An Intimidating Boss With 11 Super Helpful Tips
During my first job out of college, I had a Devil Wears Prada boss who was crazy like Miranda Priestly, minus the glamour. I was young and had no idea how to handle having an intimidating boss other than going to the bathroom to cry in a stall, and was at a loss over what I could do to improve the situation and my day-to-day duties. I didn't want to quit, but I didn't want to keep cowering in my cubicle, either. Just her very shadow would make me cringe, and I spent a handful of years jumping through some pretty elaborate hoops to avoid uncomfortable confrontations and chew-outs.
But now that I'm older and I'd like to think wiser, I've seen the error of my ways. While doing a good job might seem like the best way around a ruthlessly demanding boss, often times a stand-up performance won't do it. There's a time to hold back your words and a time to stand up for yourself, and sometimes you have to show them you're not a welcome mat — albeit tactfully and with respect, because yes, they're still you're employer. So here's how to walk that tricky line with 11 tips on how to handle having an intimidating boss.
1. Try Humanizing Them
While some bosses might just be downright crazy, most of the time you get snapped at pushed too hard because of forces that are outside of your control. Career coach Ashley Stahl at career development site The Muse explained, "In some of those cases, her reaction will be warranted, but more often than not, her behavior will be the side effect of something else in her life. More than anything, it’s important to realize that almost nothing in the workplace is truly personal." Whether they're over-stressed or the numbers aren't performing at work, chances are you're pushed hard for completely non-personal reasons. (As in, she or he doesn't actually hate you.)
2. See It As Motivation
While them seething at meetings might make you want to drink a whole bottle of wine after work, see their standards as motivation. Career development site Levo advised, "Turn your trepidation into motivation! Instead of cringing with fear, use each presentation, each panic-stricken deadline, and each one-on-one meeting to show off your skills and talents to your boss." While it might be stressful, they might actually push you to be your best professional self.
3. See If You Can Influence Their Behavior
While there are things that make your boss turn on you, there are also things that they look at in a favorable light. Gather intel on what that is and then use it to influence their behavior. Career writer Harvey Deutschendorf at entrepreneur site Fast Company recommended, "Pay close attention to not only what they say, but how they say it. What impresses or influences them? What are their favorite ways of getting things done? What do they value in life? Find ways to use this knowledge to your advantage." Try and get things done to their liking and they should give you minimal trouble.
4. Support Their Weaknesses
It might sound counter-intuitive to support someone's negative qualities, but by doing so you'll only make the situation easier for yourself. Business writer Margie Warrell at Forbes recommended, "If you know you have a boss who’s disorganized, then help him to be on top of things rather than whining about his lack of organizational skills. If you know your boss is often late to meetings, offer to kick off the next meeting for him. If he tends to change his mind frequently, or is outright forgetful, be sure to document interactions so you can refer back to them if he ever contradicts himself." By doing this, you begin to make yourself indispensable.
5. Don't Use It As An Excuse To Slack
While constantly being under-appreciated might inspire you to begin to slack, fight against it. You never know who's watching that could help you rise in your career. Warrell pointed out, "While it may be easy to succumb to resentment or resignation and mentally check out of your job, doing so not only undermines your own integrity but it can put you at risk of being branded as whiner, a slacker, or both." You're not doing yourself any favors by retaliating in that way.
6. Try To Become Irreplaceable
Rather than doing your best to become teacher's pet, take the personal bit out of the equation and just become an ace employee. This has nothing to do with sucking up and everything to do with making the office run smoother and more competently. Stahl explained, "In order to come up with projects that truly make his or her heart sing, you must anticipate circumstances or projects that may present challenges in the near future. What are your boss’ goals, priorities, and — most importantly — problems? Your ability to identify mitigate issues before they arise is key to becoming an irreplaceable employee." Focus on the needs and priorities of the office, and they won't have a choice but to respect you.
7. Be Prepared
I'll be honest, a lot of the times I got chewed out at that first job was because I wasn't prepared in full. While it's never pleasant being come down on hard, sometimes it's for a fair reason. Levo offered, "Always straighten out every detail of a project before you present it to your boss in order to minimize any conflict and reduce your stress and nervousness going into the meeting." When you feel like you've prepared in full and did the best work you could, it will be easier to stand up for yourself if you're still picked on. At least then you'll know it's not for a good reason.
8. Fight Back With Questions
Rather than raising your voice or throwing some critiques yourself, fight back the nit-picking with questions that are aimed towards understanding. Warrell suggested, "If you’re doing the best job you can do, keep your head held high and don’t give him the satisfaction of pushing you about. Rather ask questions, seek to understand, and work to defuse a difficult situation instead of cowering or responding in anger." Either your boss has a valid point and their answers will help clarify that, or they might see the error in their harshness with your well pointed questions.
9. Change The Way You Look At The Situation
Instead of making the job about your boss, make it about yourself. Deutschendorf explained, "Alter your way of viewing the situation — you are working for yourself instead of your boss or the organization. Any skills that you learn now will help you to be a more valued person in your future endeavors. Use your present job to develop not only your skills but your coping mechanisms." Even if it's tough, you're learning important skills and moving yourself up the career ladder, and that's what matters.
10. Avoid Their Triggers
If you've been working with them awhile, chances are you know what triggers cause your boss to spiral. Anticipate them and do your best to avoid them. Business development site The Muse suggested, "If your boss has anger management problems, identify what triggers her meltdowns and be extra militant about avoiding those." It'll make things easier on you all around.
11. Demand Respect
If you've tried to be tactful, responsible, and a good worker and your boss still makes knocking you down a habit, it's time to stand up for yourself. Brian de Haaff, CEO of Aha!, recommended to Business Insider, "You can't control how other people act — but you can control your own response. You can calmly explain to any peer or boss that you can handle feedback but expect it to be shared with dignity." Stay calm but strong — in the end your patience and composure will only highlight how deep they are in the wrong.
While it's frustrating to have a boss that doesn't appreciate you, trying out these maneuvers might make your situation better. Who knows, maybe these tactics might even turn their attitude around!
Images: Isla Murray/Bustle