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How to Deal with Difficult Managers

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Your relationship with your boss can make or break a job. In fact, it’s one of the most commonly-cited reasons for leaving an organisation. If interacting with your manager leaves you feeling frustrated or drained, our guide to dealing with difficult managers is here to help.

Change Your Relationship

The first thing to do with a difficult boss is to change how you think about them. Butting heads won’t do your career prospects any good and neither will burying your head in the sand and hoping they turn over a new leaf. Instead, accept the reality of the situation and find a way to work with them.

Understand Why They Do What They Do

Psychologists have identified four major personality types and, unsurprisingly, some of them tend to clash. Understanding your own personality type and that of your manager will help you find different ways to communicate and improve your working relationship.

None of the personality types are right or wrong – they’re just different ways of viewing and interacting with the world. Each is based on the rich personal history that has formed each of us into the people we are today.

The four main personality types are described by Tim Ursiny, a business psychologist and the founder of Advantage Coaching, in the following way:


  • Impulsive and sceptical
  • Tend to prefer immediate results and are very direct
  • You’ll know them for being considered intimidating, impatient or aggressive
  • They will often be the person who’s always falling out with someone


  • methodical and sceptical
  • these are typically detail-oriented and highly analytical people
  • you’ll notice these people for their perfectionism and tendency to stick to the rules


  • impulsive and warm
  • influencers who generate enthusiasm and enjoy group work
  • spot them by their tendency to overlook the details


  • Methodical and warm
  • These are patient people who seek harmony
  • Identify them by their indecision, hesitancy and passive-aggressive tendencies

Clashes tend to occur between opposing personality types. Dominant people tend to conflict with those who are steady, and conscientious types mainly clash with influential personalities.

Tweak Your Approach

The first step towards accepting your boss’ differences is to understand how they see the world by identifying their personality type. You can probably already tell which category your boss falls into from the list above.

The next step is to find ways to work with them by amending your communication style. This is all about finding the middle ground and making it work for both of you.

If you’re dominant and your boss is steady you’ll need to be fully relaxed before you interact with them. This will put you in a more patient frame of mind so you can ask more questions to understand your boss’ hesitancy about taking action. This will help you address their concerns but will also mean you can take steps to move work forward keeping everyone happy.

In situations where the roles are reversed (you’re steady and your boss is dominant), work on becoming more assertive and aim to put forward your views succinctly. This will ensure you feel your ideas are being heard in such a way that your boss’ impatient streak isn’t triggered.

Should you be an influencer and your boss conscientious, you might feel that they hold back your natural enthusiasm and creativity. But consider how you might come across to them. While enthusiasm is welcome, talking over others and diving straight into doing won’t impress a boss who values adhering to the rules and considering the detail. Calm your natural energy, listen and take time to consider potential problems instead of dominating and leaping into action.

Again, if the roles are reversed and you’re the conscientious one in the relationship, try to let down your defences and take a more flexible approach. While the details are important, so is creativity and the momentum that can be generated by the enthusiasm and energy of influencers. Find a balance between your natural styles and you’ll keep projects moving forward without too many set-backs.

Tackle the Issue Head On

If adapting your style doesn’t work or isn’t reciprocated, it’s often worth talking to your manager to raise the issues you’ve been experiencing.

Let them know that you want to find a way to work better together: cite specific examples of situations when you think a better outcome could have been achieved. By focussing on finding ways to work more productively together, you’ll ensure this isn’t a personal attack.

Accept that none of us are perfect and be prepared to face a critique of your own working style. While you shouldn’t allow criticism of you to be used as a distraction method, it’s important to accept your own limitations and be prepared to change too. After all, this is all about finding ways to move forward productively.

Don’t Accept a Bullying Boss

Personality types can tip into something more unpleasant. Avensure HR reports that workplace bullying is on the rise:

“Dominant managers who send short emails, with zero pleasantries, are often considered intimidating by staff, as are those who send late night emails expecting a quick response.”

If your boss’ behaviour is less about a different management style and more like treating you unacceptably, this isn’t something you’re likely to be able to work around. Record specific instances of bullying backed up by witnesses where possible. Then raise this with another manager or your HR team. Depending on the company’s culture and how others view your manager, you may or may not get the outcome you want.

Be prepared; this could go sour. It’s difficult to continue to work for an organisation when your accusation of bullying has not been upheld. Which could mean it’s time to look for a new job.

Jump Out of the Frying Pan…

… And into something much better by doing your research into a new employer. Working with a recruitment agency can provide an additional level of scrutiny and comfort when moving organisation. Good recruitment agencies care about matching the right candidate with the right manager from both cultural fit and working style perspectives.

Be prepared to ask the hiring manager to describe their management style during the interview. And use the list earlier in this article to try and establish their personality type to see if you might be a good fit.

You don’t need to be your manager’s best friend but you do need to get along with them. Apply the tips in this article to make a change in your working relationship and watch it, and your career, flourish.