How to survive (and thrive) when you have a terrible boss

Five steps to winning over even the most difficult managers or clients.

Everyone has a story about a horrible boss or client. Stories of office antics from yelling to disorganization are rampant, especially in the fast-paced public relations industry.

However, with just a few tweaks to your work style, you can successfully “manage up” and win over even the most difficult of managers or clients.

Here’s how:

1. Establish work preferences with them early in the relationship.
Ask them how you can best help make their job easier. Soliciting feedback is essential and helps to diffuse tense situations before they escalate.

2. Don’t engage with craziness or take it personally. You are never going to win an argument with someone who isn’t rational. Instead, turn the demand or rant your boss spouted into a calm and positive opportunity. Don’t get defensive. Apologize if you truly made a mistake and arm yourself with solutions. “So it seems you weren’t happy with the situation. Here are some ideas regarding how we can fix things and move forward.”

3. Always follow up with clarification, in writing. After a meeting or a call, send a quick email with a bulleted list about your action items and responsibilities based on the discussion. And make sure you include deadlines. (For example: “I will complete the report by 2:00 p.m. and appreciate your feedback by 4:00 p.m. so we can send it out by 5:00 p.m.”).

4. Praise them. Yes, this is where some humility comes into play. Thank them when they provide you with clear direction. Tell them how much you learned from them by watching their presentation, etc. Most tough bosses thrive on positive feedback and want to be admired. Bonus points if you do this in front of other colleagues.

5. Over communicate. Frequently provide positive email updates. Not only are you documenting your work and achievements, but you are preempting any complaints they may have about you not working fast or smart enough. These updates can be sent even if the project is not completed, or if it has hit a speed bump. “I completed half of the media list and although there are dozens of editorial changes, I’ve also uncovered some great new contacts. I’ll have something to share with you in another hour.”

Understand that you can’t change others, but you can change how you relate to them. With some practice, you’ll become a pro at dealing with difficult clients and managers and enjoy a happy and productive career.

Lorra M. Brown is an assistant professor of public relations/professional communication at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J. She serves as the internship coordinator and advisor to the Student Public Relations Association. Prior to her faculty position, she held senior-level positions at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide and Weber Shandwick Worldwide.


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