Strategies for Surviving a Challenging Boss


Bosses and managers can be great people who are natural leaders that motivate and bring out the best in a team. They can also be people who have weak leadership skills, are poor communicators, or are just difficult to please. A challenging boss in the healthcare industry is a serious issue because workplace conflict can ultimately result in reduced quality of patient care. How to avoid this happening in your organization? Read on.


First, what not to do: Do not retaliate towards a challenging boss. We are only human, and our instinctual response to being treated unfairly is to lash out. Most professionals know better than to openly challenge a manager in front of others or start a hostile altercation, but you also need to resist the temptation for passive-aggressive retaliation like working slower, or allowing a project to fail as an “I told you so,” to a boss that didn’t properly prepare you for the task. None of this is going to make the relationship with the boss better, and it might even result in you being fired.


If you are dealing with a deteriorating relationship with your boss, go back to basics for a while and regroup. Healthcare facilities can be stressful places at times, so watch for patterns. Is the boss particularly difficult to approach after meeting with the Board? Or before lunch? Determine the best times to interact with your boss and avoid any trigger-times when she may be stressed.


Note his favorite method of communication. A boss who prefers emails won’t welcome an unscheduled face-to-face interruption. While communicating use an old therapy trick of repeating what your manager said to you as a means of clarifying the request. This will make him feel ‘heard’ and will help you both clearly understand what the expectations are on both sides.


One of the first steps to dealing with a challenging boss is to understand the reasons for the behavior and try to empathize, rather than demonize. For example, micromanaging, a common healthcare industry complaint, usually comes from fear, and is a way for managers to squeeze control out of a situation that feels out of their control. Perhaps she is feeling insecure in the role, or wants to make sure she is being seen as an authority figure. Try to understand the motivation, provide reassurance in that area, and give your manager plenty of reasons to trust you.


Keep a micromanaging boss updated frequently. Does he always check on certain measurables on Thursday? Send him an update late Wednesday. Does he always worry about certain tasks or projects? Anticipate questions and provide frequent progress reports. If you start to regularly share what you and/or your department is doing, you may just find that your boss will back down a little as you gain his trust.


If your attempts to work harmoniously with your boss aren’t successful, don’t take it personally, and don’t let it affect your work. Some people bring drama and conflict with them everywhere they go. This will be apparent to other co-workers and management. Keep working hard and stay on good terms with other leaders in the company, and there will be opportunities to move to a different area or even advance your career.

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