Have a Difficult Boss? Avoid These Mistakes

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Most IT professionals will find themselves working for a less-than-perfect boss at some point in their careers. Often the conflict is due to a minor issue––your manager may request more project updates than you’re used to. In other cases, the relationship can be so problematic that you dread going to the office at all.


You and your boss must see eye to eye if you are to succeed in your role and advance your career. Among other things, a personality clash can prevent your supervisor from trusting you or assigning you high-level projects. While there is no one-size-fits-all formula for repairing a rift with your manager, a poor approach can make it more difficult to heal the relationship. Here are some mistakes to avoid.

Hope the Problem Goes Away
True, it can be intimidating to initiate a conversation with your supervisor about the situation. Yet, chances are the conflict will never be resolved if you try to ignore it. The best approach is to broach the subject with your manager in a non-confrontational manner. For example, you might meet with your boss and say, “I noticed that you overrode some of my purchasing decisions recently. I had researched the products carefully beforehand and felt strongly they were the best for our company’s IT needs, so I was confused. I was hoping to learn your reasoning so we can be on the same page in the future.” Even if you disagree with your manager’s feedback, you will still be better prepared to handle similar situations going forward.

Take No Responsibility
Another mistake to avoid is placing all of the blame for the strained relationship on your boss. Even if you’re certain you have done nothing wrong, it’s worth taking another look at the situation. Are you openly complaining about your manager? Do you publicly challenge his or her decisions? Your attitude and actions may be contributing to the problem.


Think about how you might minimize the friction between you and your boss. For example, if he or she has noted that your technology expertise is overshadowed by your poor writing abilities, consider enrolling in a course on business communication. You’ll demonstrate your commitment to improve your performance and the relationship. At the same time, you will overcome a professional weakness, which can enhance your marketability should you decide to seek a different position.

Close Communication Channels
It may seem personal when your boss doesn’t respond as quickly as you’d like to e-mails or voice mails, but try to give him or her the benefit of the doubt. Your supervisor may be caught up in a company issue you’re not aware of.

Keep in mind that no one wants to be a bad manager. Sometimes people are so focused on one set of responsibilities, such as hiring more staff or working with executives on business strategy, that they don’t realize they’re no longer connecting with their employees. If you suspect this is the case, seek opportunities to improve the communication between you and your supervisor. Perhaps your manager would be better able to respond to your requests if you stopped by his or her office or arranged a lunch meeting to discuss lingering issues.

Expect Immediate Changes
Recognize that change doesn’t happen overnight. Just because your boss is receptive to your feedback and ideas doesn’t mean you will see a noticeable difference right away. He or she may agree that the two of you should meet every other week to discuss the status of your projects but then be unable to honor this commitment on a consistent basis. You may feel like you’re back to square one, but try to be patient. Re-evaluate the situation in a couple of months to see if there has been any improvement before deciding the relationship can’t be fixed.

No Easy Solution
Unfortunately, some conflicts don’t have easy solutions. You may want to get advice from human resources personnel or a more senior manager in the company if problems persist. Consider keeping track of all related activity––for instance, noting the time, place and words used when your boss criticized you in front of co-workers––to document your concerns and help others assess the situation.
What seems like an insurmountable problem can sometimes be changed with a little flexibility, creativity and patience. You may be surprised at how much you can achieve by making a genuine effort to improve your relationship with your boss. At the very least, you will be in a better position to decide whether you want to stay in your job or make a move.


Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. She can be reached at klee@certmag.com.

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