Having a tough boss can feel like a rite of passage. That’s to say that most of us will, at some stage in our careers, come across this person. Whether he or she micromanages you, or makes zero contact until tearing down work you put painstaking effort into, some bosses are just seemingly impossible to please.
I experienced a Devil Wears Prada-esque manager or two early on in my own career, so I definitely understand how frustrating this can be. It sucks, but even when it seems like your boss can pretty much make or break your experience at a job, I’ve learned that you have more power than you may think when it comes to remaining encouraged and ambitious.
Here are a few methods you can use to shift your mindset and set yourself up for success, difficult manager be damned.
1. Be a Solutions Master
There’s a certain type of no-nonsense manager who has no time for context, small talk, or explanations. What she likely does have time for is seeing how you’re helping achieve her goals. If you’re constantly coming to her with questions or issues, you’re detracting from that priority. Work to present solutions, not problems. This isn’t to say you should always have the answers, but before you approach your boss with bad news, jot down at least two possible options for overcoming every one challenge you’re delivering.
2. Always Be One Step Ahead
Do you have access to your boss’ calendar? If so, check it often. Make yourself acutely aware of what your boss is working on and what his or her priorities are at all times. If your office has a culture of regular check-ins and you don’t have any in place, set up a weekly or bi-weekly one-on-one meeting time with your boss.
Come prepared with an informal report that details all of your projects, their statuses, and any important updates he or she should know about it. This meeting also serves as an opportunity for you to gain up-to-date insight into your boss’ priorities. You can also tactfully toot your own horn about what you’ve recently accomplished and keep track of your successes leading up to your year-end review.
3. Be Confident, Even in Your Mistakes
Let me be clear: You will spend more time cleaning up a mistake you lied about than one you were upfront about. So, not if, but when you do something wrong, come clean right away and use your solution-master skills to explain how you’re going to fix it. When dealing with a tough boss, considerate confidence is your best weapon. Even on your roughest days, remind yourself that you’re smart and capable (that’s why they hired you!) and carry yourself with poise and conviction.
4. Determine What You Have to Gain
Not all tough bosses are bad bosses. In fact, having a no-BS boss actually trains you to be a better employee by forcing you to be on your A-game at all times, to double-check your work, and to vet your ideas before presenting them to someone else. Tough bosses taught me how to navigate the corporate ladder.
They’ve also helped me assess what makes a good manager—which is something I now look out for anytime I’m on either side of a job interview. I know to screen for someone whose working style is aligned with mine, who equips direct reports with the tools they need to do their jobs, and who gives them space to succeed. As a result, I’m extremely happy with my current boss, and I hope others that I have the opportunity to manage feel the same about me.
Photo of two people working courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.
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