Bad Boss!

4 steps to dealing with a difficult supervisor

Your boss barrels into the office like a storm trooper preying on the enemy. You politely ask if he might have some time today to discuss the company’s new business model. But rather than answer you, your boss barks out something totally inaudible, enters his office, and slams the door shut.

At one time or another during our careers, many of us have had to work for managers or supervisors who are irascible, inconsiderate, inept or just plain awful! Dealing with other people – regardless of how they affect our lives – is rarely a smooth, seamless or linear process. But when the challenge involves your boss, you must use savvy, ingenuity and excellent timing to survive in a difficult working environment.

Becoming a supervisor doesn’t automatically render someone superior to or better than the rank-and-file. Instead, it simply means that their “work world” has changed, and that they now have new managerial duties to perform.

Your boss’s responsibility is to ensure that you are doing what you should be doing, according to company policy and with the best available resources. In other words, effective supervisors coach, direct, mold, shape and motivate their employees. The aim is to produce the best possible work that is consistent with the goals of the organization.

Some bosses understand this and do their jobs well. But many others are still a work in progress. The key to developing a better relationship with a difficult boss is to appreciate that he or she is just like you – that is, fallible!

Working for a tough boss? Talking it out with them in a meeting is your best hope. Follow these four tips to create a meeting that will lead to a more pleasurable workplace.

  • Take your anger temperature. Before setting up a meeting with your boss, try to rid yourself of destructive thoughts and feelings. Deciding to tell him or her exactly what you think and feel certainly won’t score you any brownie points. Instead, talk through your discussion with an associate, or practice with a voice recorder, which lets you monitor the tone and volume of your voice.
  • Make a plan. Write down what you hope and expect the meeting to accomplish. Also, jot down specific incidents that indicate a need for change; these will come in handy if you’re feeling nervous during your meeting. Then make a list of what you believe is important to your boss from an organizational standpoint. When all this is done, schedule a formal appointment for your meeting.
  • Introduce the topic. At the meeting, start by telling your boss that your top priority is helping him or her meet their goals. Ask your boss how they view their “work world,” and try to assess what is most important. How well do your boss’ answers match your notes? Let your boss know what observations you have made, and suggest how he or she might be better able to achieve their goals by modifying certain behaviors. Be very specific here and tread lightly, as diplomacy is an absolute must!
  • Request feedback. Turnabout is indeed fair play. Solicit responses from your boss about your behavior, too. Ask how you may have contributed to the current situation. And see what you might need to change to make your relationship with your boss more agreeable.

When dealing with an onerous boss, make good use of questions, be open to change, and try rethinking issues from his perspective. Focus on mutual problem-solving, which eschews confrontation and produces win-win outcomes.


Joe Wegmann is a licensed clinical social worker and a clinical pharmacist with over 30 years of experience in counseling and medication treatment of depression and anxiety. Joe’s new book, Psychopharmacology: Straight Talk on Mental Health Medications is available at To learn more about Joe’s programs or to contribute a question for Joe to answer in a future article, visit his website at, or e-mail him at