Let us start by saying that some bosses are wonderful — they’re empathetic, fully present, and want what’s best for their employees and the company. But less-than-ideal managers can be major sources of stress. In fact, a study by the American Psychological Association found that 75 percent of Americans say their “boss is the most stressful part of their workday.” On top of that, a study by Gallup of 2.5 million manager-led teams in 195 countries found that around half of American employees have left a job “to get away from their manager at some point in their career.”
But it shouldn’t come down to having to leave a job — with a few mindful communication tools, it’s possible to get through to (or at least find a way to work with) even the worst bosses. Here are three of the toughest types of bosses and the most effective ways to communicate with them to make your life a little more pleasant at work:
For a lot of people, having a boss who is a micromanager presents the biggest — and most frustrating — challenge. As humans, we value our autonomy and being trusted to make the right decisions and do our jobs properly. Micromanagers tend to take away our sense of agency by constantly checking up on every aspect of everything we do — whether or not it’s useful or necessary (hint: it’s usually not) — and requiring us to obtain their approval before doing even the smallest task.
But how do you get through to someone who insists on controlling everything? According to Suzy Welch, former editor-in-chief of the Harvard Business Review and best-selling author of books like Winning, it comes down to effective, mindful communication. She tells CNBC that people find themselves micromanaged because their bosses don’t trust them to do their jobs. The solution? Overcommunicate with them. “Swamp them with evidence of your competence and character,” Welch suggests, and “anticipate their concerns, and put them to rest before they arise.” The fewer surprises, the better.
On the opposite end of the boss spectrum is the phantom manager. You know they exist because you’ve seen them at all-company meetings or spotted them on an email thread, but when it comes to actual day-to-day managing, they’re never around. If you’ve suffered through working under a micromanager, this may initially seem like a dream come true, but in reality, it comes with its own set of challenges.
Michael Kerr, author of The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses are Laughing all the Way to the Bank tells Forbes that if employees feel unsupported and ill-prepared, it can result in a stressful work environment. “If the boss’s absence results in gridlock, for example, because no one feels empowered or confident enough to make a decision, then this can impact everyone’s work negatively,” he explains. “New employees can feel frustrated, even abandoned, if the boss has not adequately trained them and communicated crystal clear expectations.”
So what should you do if you find yourself working for a phantom boss? Again, it comes down to communication. Even if it feels as though your manager is ignoring you, continue to keep them in the loop, whether that’s by including them on certain email chains or setting up a regular time to check in with them, Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of FlexJobs, tells Forbes. If your boss rarely responds to email, for instance, prioritize what you are sending — don’t get in touch with every little detail. And speaking of priorities, that’s exactly what you should be asking your boss about: which tasks or projects you should focus on first or are the most important, Lynn Taylor, author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant, explains. That way you’ll be able to stay on top of your work as much as possible and have a record of checking in with your manager about their priorities.
And then there’s the dumper — the type of boss who is constantly adding more to your already full plate. At first it might seem like a good thing that your manager trusts you enough to not only do your job, but other people’s tasks as well (possibly even including theirs). In fact, it may appear to be a compliment — a clear sign that you can handle things. But in reality, it gets really old really quickly, because piling more and more work upon someone isn’t sustainable.
So how do you let your manager know that you couldn’t possibly handle another project? When dealing with a dumper, you need to do more than simply communicate that there is a problem: You also need to come in with a solution. In an article in the Harvard Business Review, Julie Morgenstern, productivity expert and author of Never Check E-Mail in the Morning explains that you have to go into that conversation with the right mindset — that you and your manager both want to meet the goals of the company. She suggests starting there — with your shared objectives — before moving into what’s getting in the way of accomplishing those goals, being as specific as possible.
The key here is to offer three solutions for every problem you bring up with your manager, Morgenstern advises. For example, if you want your boss to know that you’re struggling with your current workload because of a time-consuming research project, you might suggest that the task be done on a quarterly — rather than monthly — basis, or that certain parts of the project are delegated to your colleagues, or that the organization may need to hire a temp to assist with this project. When in doubt, Morgenstern says to identify “projects that can be delayed, delegated, deleted, or diminished.”
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