Working with gifted leaders can alter the course of your career. Just so, not dealing effectively with a difficult boss could impede your career progress, or cut it short.
The secret to any relationship comes down to communicating and connecting. Difficulties arise when this becomes a challenge.
There are many types of difficult bosses and it is useful to know what type of boss you're dealing with. Here are three of the more challenging types that you might encounter in your career.
The Psychopath: Research shows that this type of boss is arrogant, superficially charming, will lie and brag a lot and deflects responsibility. Their main characteristic is that they simply lack empathy, which makes them shallow and may even appear cold. They know how to manipulate situations to their advantage and they may well take credit for your work and pass it off as their own. They can be a bully. But beware - they're also agile and intelligent and know how to manipulate situations to their advantage.
The Howler: This boss intimidates their way to success and uses the strategy of shouting and screaming to get others to submit to their demands. They avoid people and ignore others' success. They are excitable, cynical, arrogant and insecure. However, they do get results where others fail and so keep upwardly mobile.
The Cathedral: The rising star, they are super-successful in the firm and everyone knows just how much they have contributed to the success of the company. As a result, they are narcissistic. They have a huge sense of self-entitlement, lack empathy and aggressively resist feedback. They think outside the box, even when it is not required and therefore, rock the boat regularly with peers and seniors. Towards subordinates, they are ruthlessly critical and will not hesitate to scheme their demise from their team when they might outshine them.
While each type has different ways of being, you can successfully deal with them in mindful ways:
1. Consider that difficult characters are the Universe's invitation to us to become more self-aware and to discover innate capacities hidden in our deeper self. Reframe every situation in your life, including that with your problematic boss at whom you would love to throw every item of office furniture.
2. When your boss casts bad mood, ill temper or nasty comments, develop the ability to not pick up the poison arrows that their words or behaviour are throwing in your direction.
3. Discipline yourself to not stab yourself with the same arrow after they are done with their nastiness. Be very clear that it is not personal.
Understand your nature ... and your boss'
Go beyond your boss' behaviour and listen to the actual content of what they are saying. There are two layers of negative mental dialogue, mind monkey chatter or "noise" - your boss' and yours.
1. When your boss talks to you, you might not be able to objectively hear what they are trying to say, even if it is something positive. Given your negative perception of them, what they want to say might get distorted by your internal dialogue. Also, bear in mind that your boss may miscommunicate due to pressures from above.
2. When you listen to your boss, you may not necessarily hear what they are actually saying. What you hear is not always accurate because you are listening to your own mind monkey chatter. This makes what they said and what you heard a bit like Chinese whispers - a distorted form of their original message. As a result, you react emotionally rather than rationally and your boss gets annoyed and the cycle of misunderstanding and miscommunication starts again.
A lot of difficulties with your boss can be resolved by understanding your nature and your boss' nature. By truly listening to the spoken communication that lives in the realm of "being human", you can effectively dissolve the individual from being the rock that blocks your career progress.
Be present and mindful
Given that effective communication is key to successful relationships, being present to what works for your difficult boss and what is an absolute no-no will prevent unnecessary dramas from arising.
1. Observe and try to understand the ways in which they prefer to communicate. If possible, ask them how they want you to communicate with them for urgent and non-urgent matters. For example, if they would rather that you did not drop in frequently, schedule a time with them.
2. Become aware of how you like to work and find a way of becoming aligned with your boss' preferred way of working and communicating.
3. Don't react, respond. Being emotional creates a knee-jerk reaction. Being calm and collected enables you to respond. To avoid getting into regrettable situations, refuse to interact with them while you feel emotional. Wait until you are calm to ensure you have control over your actions.
More mindful tips
1. Praise your boss in public, offer criticism in private.
2. Create an inspiring context and vision for your work and role. Be clear why you are there and be sure to include personal growth factors, such as expanding your skills in specific areas and developing valuable relationships with key people.
3. Focus on your job and goals. Don't let your work become about 'managing' your difficult boss. Results speak for themselves. When you know you're delivering, your confidence will soar and your boss's difficult behaviour will have less of an impact on you.
4. Find aspects of your work that are truly enjoyable and do these frequently.
5. Have ten minutes each day for focusing just on conscious breathing. This will help to calm and clear your nervous system of daily stress and promote a deep sense of wellbeing.
6. Practise meditation - guided visualisation, Vipassana, Transcendental Meditation, mindfulness - find your favourite type. The twenty minutes a day that you invest in going inward will become the cornerstone of your career success.