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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

3 Frustrating Boss Behaviors (and How to Deal)

It’s the workplace equivalent of leaving the cap off the toothpaste, resting the toilet seat in undesirable repose, or placing an empty milk jug back in the fridge.

Yep, he or she is driving you crazy, and you don’t know if you can take it anymore. But it’s not a spouse, partner, or roommate we’re talking about—it’s your manager.

And it’s not the cap on the toothpaste. It’s any number of minor to major workplace annoyances that create eye roll-worthy opportunities in your day. Often, they’ll get you thinking that it’s time to look for a new job.

But before you do, I urge you to reconsider and learn to deal with the frustrations head on. The reality is that all managers have flaws. They will all commit some manner of annoyance against you. But the good news is, when you know what your manager’s flaws are, you can deal with them.

Here are three very common ways your manager might be pushing your buttons, and how to push back.

1. Changing His Mind—Constantly

It’s inevitable that things will change in the course of certain projects, sales activity, or client programs. That’s a fact of business life.

However, if your boss can’t seem to make a decision that sticks and is constantly changing course, that can be downright infuriating. Believe me, I’ve had my share of these managers, and I know how frustrating it is to see good work that’s simply wasted by inefficient decision-making.

Though you may not think you can have an impact here, I believe you can. Recently, I spoke with a client who seemed to be taking orders from his manager, then getting frustrated when the manager vacillated. I noticed he wasn’t asking any questions, getting clarity, or pushing back when the orders were being rolled out.

My advice to him—and to you? When you’re getting a new assignment from a boss who is prone to flip-flopping, try getting more clarity before you launch into action. For instance, ask about the big picture, the long-term goal, and how your actions will support that.

Say there’s an idea proposed to ramp up your social media presence to create more customer engagement. Before running off to post, tweet, and set up a profile on every new social platform out there, stop and ask some questions.

  • When you say “ramp up,” tell me exactly what you mean by that.

  • How will this support our current business development strategy?

  • What results are we looking for with this initiative?

  • How will we measure the results of this initiative when all is said and done?

By helping your manager drill down to the drivers of a decision, you may also help him become clearer about why he’s doing it. In the process, he may realize he’s proposed a solution that doesn’t fix a problem (or fix it most effectively), or have some other insight. If you can, influence the decisions about what comes next, and you’ll lessen the chance of a flip-flop strategy.

2. Equating Face Time With Results

Unless your physical job is to be in one place to, say, manage a production machine or escort guests through a facility, it’s likely you’ll have some degree of latitude in when and where you work.

That said, many managers, even if they support this flexibility, equate face time with productivity. After all, it’s easy to quantify the hours you work—and it can be more difficult to measure performance, results, or contribution. I once who had a manger who told me, “If you’re not in the office, you’re not working.” Seriously. And my work did not require that I had to be in one place.

If you’re in a situation where you need some flexibility or out-of-office time to get your job done, but your manager seems obsessed with face time rather than results, it’s important to have a conversation about it.

First, you’ll want to assure him or her that you understand your objectives and you intend to deliver on those results. Then, propose a structure for how you work best, and how you would like to work moving forward—whether that’s leaving at 4 every day then working a few more hours at home, or one day a week of work-from-home time.

If you have a boss who’s skeptical, it’s up to you to amp up the communication frequency and assure her that she can trust your judgment and commitment in getting work done, no matter your level of cubicle time. Be especially attentive to your boss’ needs during this time. Flag her emails and texts and answer them. Or, let her know you have the message and you’ll respond by a certain time if it’s not urgent.

Then, review your working schedule during your regular conversations, validating that you’re spot-on in achieving your results. In essence, demonstrate that you can manage getting your work done (and done well), even if you’re not putting in the official “face time.”

3. Keeping Your Job Objectives a Secret

Pick up any survey on employee feedback, and you’ll see the distinct link between high employee engagement and clear job expectations. The more you know about what you should be doing, why you’re doing it, and how you’ll be measured, the more likely you are to be satisfied in your job.

Sounds simple, right? But you can’t believe how often I hear, “Well, I don’t really have a job description.”

You may find that managers are often much better on the “performance correction” process than they are in the “setting expectations for the job” process. So, if you don’t have a good job description, goals, and a system for how you’ll be measured, you need to change that. (And this is a career-management skill, not just a corrective step to take with one manager.)

So, if you haven’t already, ask your manager for the goals and objectives specific to your job, along with the timelines for those deliverables. If you have, but still don’t have the document, write up your understanding and have your boss review it.

Then, make it a point to have regular conversations with your manager that include status updates, feedback gathering, and progress toward your objectives (i.e., are these still the right goals, and are you on the right track?). It can feel awkward or tedious to put these on the calendar, but remember that it means you’ll always know where you stand (and that you won’t have any surprises come performance review season).

Finally, remember that a big part of your job is making your boss successful. To that end, you should have a clear understanding of your boss’ goals, so that you can see how your job responsibilities align to the bigger picture of the department. It’s another way of knowing if you’re on track.

When you know what you’re responsible for, and how you will be measured, you’re going to be more satisfied and less frustrated in your job. And without a doubt, you’re going to be more successful as well.

Sure, managers can be difficult. All are imperfect. But instead of being frustrated or tempted to cut and run, try managing through some of these tribulations. It’ll help your build your career skills and get more satisfaction in the job you do have.

Photo of people working courtesy of Shutterstock.