In today’s fast-paced corporate landscape, one of the most significant challenges employees encounter is navigating the complexities of working with difficult managers or leaders.

Whether it is contending with micromanagement, facing an overly demanding or critical boss, or dealing with a leader who lacks empathy and respect, the impact of such behaviour can reverberate throughout an organisation.

The consequences often extend beyond workplace dynamics, leading to the departure of valuable talent and a disruption of the overall company culture.

However, while some situations may appear unresolvable, there are strategic approaches that can help alleviate these issues. So, what are the most effective ways to manage a challenging superior?

  1. Cultivate understanding: Taking a step back and approaching the situation with empathy can be the first step towards resolution. By comprehending the executive’s perspective, personality, background, and communication style, a clearer picture of the underlying reasons for their behavior can emerge. With this understanding, there’s an opportunity to negotiate mutually beneficial solutions and establish effective communication channels that align both parties.
  2. Identify triggers Understanding the triggers that prompt difficult behavior is crucial. By pinpointing these triggers, employees can adjust their approach and responses accordingly. Acknowledging one’s own triggers is equally vital, as it aids in developing a strategy to handle tense situations. Often, challenging behavior arises from inherent traits amplified by pressure. Helping executives delegate tasks to ease their burden can alleviate stress and mitigate the impact of their actions.
  3. Uncover the root cause and strategise Surface-level issues may camouflage underlying problems. It’s essential to gather relevant information, assess the problem’s implications, and consider the executive’s perspective. By adopting an emotionally intelligent and structured problem-solving approach, companies can minimise disruptions and foster productive working relationships. Developing a comprehensive strategy to address the core issue is vital, along with proactive measures to prevent escalation.
  4. Maintain professionalism In challenging circumstances, maintaining professionalism is paramount. Punctuality, preparedness, and reliability reflect an employee’s capacity to handle adversity gracefully. Upholding confidentiality and respecting privacy further bolster one’s credibility. Demonstrating composure underscores the ability to navigate difficulties and maintain professionalism.
  5. Set clear expectations Realistic goal-setting, negotiating priorities, and outlining the steps necessary to achieve targets are essential components of managing expectations. Transparent communication about timeframes, potential obstacles, and roles is pivotal. Flexibility in adapting to shifting priorities promotes harmony.
  6. Foster effective communication Effective communication is pivotal in resolving conflicts. Expressing concerns using positive language and focusing on solutions rather than blame is key. Demonstrating emotional control and building trust can lead to constructive resolutions. Documenting incidents when necessary provides a factual record of events.
  7. Navigate challenges with composure Avoiding futile arguments and responding thoughtfully aids in maintaining a composed demeanor. Understanding the situation enables a measured response, preventing emotional reactions. A poised approach ensures effective thinking, facilitating collaborative solutions.
  8. Build positive relationships Establishing trust, identifying potential issues proactively, and seeking common ground contribute to reducing tension. Empathy and understanding foster mutual respect, resulting in a positive working relationship even amidst challenges.
  9. Prioritise self-care Maintaining physical, emotional, and mental well-being is integral to effectively managing conflicts and challenging colleagues. Regular breaks, exercise, and seeking support from friends and family outside of work contribute to a balanced mindset.
  10. Seek support In instances of toxicity, seeking advice from colleagues or mentors can provide valuable insights. Communicating the issue to higher-ups when necessary, and seeking a resolution, is essential. In extreme cases, withdrawal may become necessary, prompting reflection on the worthiness of the work environment.

As the corporate landscape continues to evolve, mastering the art of managing difficult leadership is indispensable. By adopting a combination of empathy, strategic problem-solving, effective communication, and self-care, employees can navigate the challenges of the workplace and contribute to a healthier organisational culture.





Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.