How to deal with a difficult boss and enjoy your job

  | 9 min read

Difficult bosses are pretty common in Tanzania

If you ask a group of professionals in the workforce, ‘do you like your boss?’, it’s safe to bet that most people will give you a strong, ‘no’. While it’s logical to think that most employees won’t like their bosses because they give us work to do and hold us accountable for the mistakes we make at work. The reality is, most of us dislike our bosses, not because of the job they have to perform, but for how they conduct themselves.

In fact, very few people in Tanzania (and globally) are lucky enough to only work with bosses they like, and often have to endure unreasonable expectations, belittling, disrespect, and fear from their supervisors. Unfortunately, bad bosses are pretty common and what’s worse is that most employees feel and are powerless against them, and resort to putting up with a difficult work environment for the sake of keeping their job. And once they’ve had enough, well, they simply quit.

So what exactly makes a boss bad?

Well, there are many factors that contribute to making someone a bad manager, team lead, supervisor, CEO, or whichever other position of power they have over you. However, the most important ones that can significantly affect your productivity and overall experience at work are:

  1. They take credit for your work and don’t acknowledge your efforts
  2. They are disrespectful and communicate with you by yelling and belittling
  3. They set unreasonable and unachievable goals and expectations for you

If your boss exhibits one or more of these characteristics, then yes, they are terrible. However, don’t despair, because there are ways that you can deal with a difficult boss and enjoy your work experience. And no, they don’t involve flipping a table over and slapping them across the face – we’ll save that for the daydreams.

  1. Understand where they are coming from


The best way to get the upper hand on your boss is to first understand what makes them tick. Does their bad behaviour stem from:

  •   Stress in their own work
  •   A feeling of inadequacy in their role, because, while many bosses are skilled in their industries, they may not be trained in management
  •   Self-entitlement and ego
  •   A break in communication
  •   A need to impress other people by bringing you down

Simply put, the first step to dealing with a difficult boss is to understand that their behaviour has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them. And once you realise this, they won’t get the reaction they want from you.

For instance, let’s say a client is displeased with a project you did and instead of correcting you and showing you how to improve things, your boss yells and calls you name. If you know that their reaction stems from their belief that fear is what makes employees productive, rather than compassion and teaching, then you won’t take what they say too personally and they won’t break your confidence. Nonetheless, while you should acknowledge that you’ve made a mistake, you shouldn’t accept disrespect as a reasonable way of being reprimanded.

  1. Speak to your boss

While you may be tempted to just suffer in silence or complain to co-workers, it’s actually in your best interest to try and talk to your boss. First things first, talking to your boss about their behaviour will not get you fired. And if your boss attempts to threaten you, then you should file an HR complaint. Luckily for you, the Tanzanian legal system aims to protect employees over employers, and it’s actually very hard to fire a full-time employee.

However, even if you are protected by the law, that doesn’t mean that you should walk into your boss’s office and just go off on them.  Instead, there are strategic ways to talk to your boss about your issues with them.

First, you don’t want them to be defensive, so instead of, saying something like “I don’t like it when you yell at me, it’s disrespectful’, frame your concern based on how you feel, “I really like working for you, and when you communicate with me through yelling it makes me feel inadequate and reduces my productivity”.

Also, beyond your feelings, it’s important to communicate how your boss’s behaviour affects your work and ultimately the business objectives. For instance, “Last week when you called me an idiot in front of the client, I not only felt embarrassed, but it also undermined my authority and skill with the client, which is not good for business”.

Lastly, make sure to take accountability for the role you play in the conflict and ask for a solution. Remember, most difficult bosses are either poorly trained or egotistical, so say something like, “I recognize that I made a mistake in the campaign, and I’m doing my best to fix it. But I’d also like to improve the manner in which we communicate with each other so that it’s more productive for the business. So, how do you suggest that we move forward?” This not only makes them less defensive as you are shouldering the blame for the failed project but also positions them as the wise problem solver because you are asking for their advice.

  1. Make them look good

This may be the last thing you want to do for your boss, and they may already be taking credit for your work, however, making them look good may be the solution to your problem with them. This is especially true if you realize that the source of your boss’s behaviour is their feeling of inadequacy and insecurity. If you learn their weaknesses, for instance, they may always be late for meetings, or there is a software they struggle with using, or they are not the best at talking to clients – then step in on their behalf and start the meeting for them, or do the work that uses the software and let them take credit, or talk to clients in moments when you sense your boss is getting awkward.

Your boss may not publically appreciate your efforts, but making them look good will show them that they need you. And once they recognize this, they may adjust their treatment towards as they’ll want to be on your good side.

However, there is a limit to how much you can do for your boss without recognition or compensation. So, situations like working on their projects in your time off without pay, or not getting a cut of commission for a new client you brought in are absolutely unacceptable.

  1. Document the abuse and speak to HR

In addition to trying to speak to your boss, if things don’t change, also make sure to file complaints with HR. It’s the HR department’s role to ensure a safe and healthy work environment for all employees, so don’t feel afraid about reporting your boss. Moreover, don’t simply have an oral conversation with the HR officer, send an email, take notes and recordings during the meetings, and have your own copies of the complaints you’ve made. This will all come in handy if you are wrongfully terminated for complaining or any other ‘shady’ situation arises that makes you want to take the legal route to deal with the issue.

  1. Know your limits

Everyone has a breaking point, and you don’t want to reach yours with your boss. So if you’ve done the best you can to try and resolve the issue, and are not willing (or it isn’t necessary) to take the legal route, then it may be time to find new employment. The thought of quitting may make you feel like you are letting your boss win, but the truth is, you have to look out for your mental, emotional, and physical well-being. So, if you feel like the treatment from your boss is cutting away at your self-confidence, draining your passion, and that the costs of working for them outweigh the benefits then it’s time to walk away.

  1. Pick your next job wisely

If you decide to leave the company, make sure you conduct some in-depth research on your future boss before you accept the position. Talk to people who work with them, talk to former employees and other peers in their industry. Moreover, during your interview, you should assess your future boss through questions like ‘what is your leadership style?’, ‘why did the last employee in this position leave?’ And also observe the way they interact with other employees. Doing this will decrease the chances of you finding yourself working for another boss you can’t stand.  

Bad bosses are really just untrained employees

Ever heard the saying, ‘everyone has a boss’? The thing is, while your boss may seem like the almighty supreme being at work, unless they started the company or own majority shares, they too were hired to perform a job and can be replaced. So, if you have done everything you can to deal with their behaviour, including talking to them, HR, and other employees, and nothing has changed, then it may be time you talk to their boss.

Meeting with senior management to talk about your boss may seem scary, but if you have documentation of your bosses behaviour and written support from other staff members, then you will have a strong case. They can’t fire you, so you have nothing to fear.  However, if senior management doesn’t do anything to fix your bosses behavior like require them to do some leadership training, take anger management classes, or put them on probation, then it may be time for you to find another job and move on.

At the end of the day, life is too short and precious to spend it working for a horrible boss.

Iman Lipumba
A digital storyteller, experienced in creating content that improves website visibility on search engines, enhances the user experience, and nurtures brand loyalty. With a background in the social sciences, an expert in researching complex ideas, and communicating them in engaging language to multiple audiences.