The challenges of today’s work life have changed the dynamics between supervisor and subordinate. Everybody is under greater pressure. The normal tensions that exist between the workers desire to do the job right and the supervisors need to ensure it is done right, have increased.
As a result, the subordinate is placed in a position where patience and understanding by the supervisor are at a greater premium. And in some cases, the relationship can deteriorate to the extent that the boss becomes abusive.
I do not propose to defend the supervisor or the employee or to explain away the circumstances under which the relationship between employee and supervisor becomes toxic. Rather, my concern is to try and develop a strategy for the employee that can improve the situation.
A recent study on stressful work life has shed some light on strategies employees could use to deal with workplace bullying and conflict or a difficult boss situation. One conclusion emphasized that the worst strategy is disengagement from the boss, avoiding contact and seeking social support within the organisation.
According to one of the researchers, “It is understandable that employees wish to reduce their contact …..to a minimum, however this strategy further increases employee stress because it is associated with a sense of weakness and perpetuates their fear of the supervisor.”
In fact, according to the study, a tension-filled or abusive situation was least strongly associated with a strategy of direct communication. That means facing and acting is the most likely solution.
So what should you do? The first is the trickiest in the short term because you can’t solve the problem unless the supervisor is willing to listen. Before even starting make sure the issue is worth the risk of creating trouble. The fact is fighting about a process or philosophy or “principle” is simply not worth it unless a fundamental business issue is at stake, such as a customer issue, product quality, safety or revenue implications. Make sure the logic of the issue, not your emotions are the driving forces.
If there is no business issue, however rather a clash of wills, personalities or work styles, communication, as painful as that may be, is the only strategy that can provide a long term solution.
If you decide to move forward do so cautiously, and always from a positive perspective. Suggest that there may be an even better way to approach the problem with constructive suggestions, backed up with supportive evidence.
A simple difference of opinion will generally not receive a favourable response. However when it comes to inclusive leadership, a substantive suggestion, backed up with data and delivered with tact may make headway.
The second problem, incompatible work styles or personality issues, is the trickiest in the long run, because it can create tensions for which there is no good solution. The fact is people have different work styles. They approach decision-making in different ways. They view risks differently. They deal with stress differently. The point is these differences can be the foundation of major frustration on both sides. Unfortunately, as a result of this incompatibility, conflict is likely, unless addressed.
It is absolutely essential to recognize there is a problem. If you get frustrated by the amount of time you spend in seemingly unproductive meetings, remember your boss thinks it is important. If time management is an on-going problem, take a look at how you get work done.
If the teams you are on seem to always get bogged down and unproductive, take an honest look at how you might be contributing to the problem. Think about why your good ideas generate little or no positive response. Try to understand why it is so difficult to get your bosses attention.
Since all of these are driven by your boss, don’t assume that you are right and the boss is wrong. Take a step back and consider your frustrations from the manager’s point of view. It is important to note one important fact. You may be sending unintended messages to your boss and the rest of the staff that is very unhealthy for you. For your own sake that has to be fixed.
Take a look at how the manager approaches problems and makes decisions. How does he/she manage people, time and other resources? Try to determine how you are cooperating or fighting the pace and tone of the group and the supervisor. Understand clearly what are the key goals as outlined by him or her. This can be critical.
You may be inadvertently working at cross purposes to organisation goals and not even know it. If you don’t even know what are the key goals and what issues are of greatest concern, you are just not contributing as a team player. And that’s the kiss of death.
The fact is survival depends on your supporting your manager’s priorities, even if you disagree. You and your boss may have irreconcilable differences in which case you need to make sure your resume is updated and your network is intact. If not, some honest introspection, adaptation and proactive engagement may be successful.
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