People don't quit their jobs, they quit their managers. It's rarely the nature of the work that frustrates people, or the long hours, or even the low pay. More often than not, it's the candidate's manager that sends them running.

If you've ever had a bad manager, you'd probably have your own views on the subject, but the most common complaints include: poor communication; unrealistic demands; bad listening skills and lack of support. In the worst cases, a combination of all of these factors. The good news, however, is that it's normally within your power to improve the situation.

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1. Find out the root of the problem

Most problems in the workplace stem from bad communication. Therefore, if you can improve the communication flow between you and your boss, you're on your way to a much happier time at work.

The fact of the matter is that most managers could be better communicators. But they are not always aware of it. They are under the impression that their expectations and goals would somehow 'trickle down' to their staff. This is seldom the case, and many employees are left without a clear idea of what they are working towards. If this is the case, try asking your manager for the information you should be receiving, but be diplomatic.

This need not be an unpleasant undertaking. Most managers will be flattered to think that you want to have a clearer idea of the company and where you fit into it.  It's often best to schedule a proper appointment and to state why you're there and what you want to achieve. If your productivity improves as a result of this communication, your boss may have learned a useful lesson.

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2. Schedule a meeting

Scheduling a meeting should probably be your first move, no matter what issue you're experiencing with your manager. This is particularly true if your boss is making unrealistic demands on you. If this is the case, it's probably because he or she is unaware of what you're doing. Explain the projects you have, together with a time estimate for each, and ask your manager to help you prioritise what you have to do.

You'd be surprised how many managers don't know what an employee's role requires, let alone their day-to-day work. This can be very damaging to morale. If you're feeling unsupported by your manager, bear in mind that he or she may not be aware of what your role entails. If this is the case, ask your manager to set you some goals. At the very least, this will be a good starting point for establishing his or her conceptions about your job role.

3. Establish what you want to say

Bad listening skills are often cited as an annoying trait of managers. It's not that they don't communicate, rather that the communication is one way. In this case, it is particularly important that you plan what you are going to talk about before going ahead with a meeting.

Try not to leave the meeting until you have established what you want to say. It may help to have notes visible to which you can refer, thereby affirming that you have considered the meeting and areas of discussion. Why not give your boss a copy in advance of the meeting so there are no surprises? It will be good sign if he/she has taken the trouble to read it!

4. And if all else fails…

So far we have talked about your manager changing. But what if, despite your best efforts, nothing happens? In this case, provided you really would prefer to stay where you are, you will have no choice but to change yourself.

David McClelland, one of the most influential twentieth century researchers and writers on motivation identified three major motivators in life: affiliation, power and achievement. Observe and mirror your manager's primary motivator (we all have all three in differing amounts) and you will get on his/her wavelength. So if your boss is motivated by achievement, people issues will be a low priority but targets will be paramount; if the major driver is affiliation, you need to think in people terms; in the case of power, be very, very careful!

But getting on your manager's wavelength is a big adaptation to make. Are you willing to learn different techniques and prioritise things that don't come naturally to you? Only you can make that evaluation.

It can sometimes be easier to get another job than another working style. If you've really lost all hope of improving your relationship with your manager, sticking with your job could damage your self-confidence. If you think you've reached the point of no return, we will be happy to talk to you about your options. 

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Summary

If you’re having difficulty dealing with a bad manager, keep these points in mind:

  • Scheduling a meeting should probably be your first move, no matter the issue you're experiencing with your manager
  • Prepare in advance for your meeting and know what you want to say
  • Observe and mirror your manager's primary motivator
  • If all else fails, consider alternative options
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