By Susan Johnston
We’ve all had bosses who made our lives difficult: the chronic micromanager, the chatty Kathy who can’t resist sharing details from her personal life, or the Houdini who magically disappears when important questions pop up. How should you handle bosses with annoying habits? We turned to the experts to find out.
Often a micromanager is insecure and feels the need to constantly check on employees to protect his position and exert authority. If you’re dealing with this type of boss, Lynn Taylor, CEO of Lynn Taylor Consulting and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant (TOT), suggests that you “over-communicate, send frequent emails, and anticipate problems before they arise.” Sometimes there’s an element of neediness, too. “If you want to go on vacation, your boss may feel some separation anxiety,” adds Taylor. “You have to give a countdown, but let them know upfront you have everything covered.”
2. Rapidly changing expectations
If your boss doesn’t know what she wants or can’t articulate it, it can feel like shooting arrows at a moving target. Blaine Loomer, President at Mitchell Publishers and author of Corporate Bullsh*t, says the key is to ask questions and take notes. “If you want to follow up with email, say ‘This is what you’re expecting, this is the project deadline,’” he adds. “Make it clear what you’re responsible for.”
3. Disappearing when you need them
You need your boss to approve a press release and *poof!* she’s nowhere to be found. Or you send an important email that sits unanswered for days. One strategy for dealing with a disappearing boss is to figure out what communication style they favor and follow their lead. “If you find that they’re always texting you or their emails are never longer than four lines, take note,” says Taylor. “Go into the meeting and make sure they’re participating. Ask them ‘What do you think of this?’ Find out what their project du jour is, and forward them some articles or links that pertain to that project. Become an ally to what’s important to them.”
Some bosses use employees as therapists, dishing about their messy divorce, complaining about that painful mole removal, or bragging about the amazing accomplishments of their kids. This is awkward for you, but the good news is you’re getting lots of face-time. Taylor recommends that you “diplomatically bring the conversation back to the work at hand. When they’re sharing too much information that gives you a great segway to questions that you need answered. Say, ‘I’m so glad you’re here. By the way, I’ve been dying to ask you this question.’”
5. Taking ownership of others’ work
It’s highly frustrating when a manager takes your carefully compiled data and passes it off as his own. “It’s typically done over email,” says Loomer, “and it’s one of the oldest tricks on the book.” His advice? Bring up the project in a group setting where other higher-ups are present. “Say ‘our group has done X” and ask for an opinion on your efforts,” he suggests. “It’s usually a pretty good eye-opener, because it’s hard to politic in a public forum.”
Boston-based freelance writer Susan Johnston has covered career and business topics for "The Boston Globe," "Hispanic Executive Quarterly," WomenEntrepreneur.com, and other publications.