Too often I hear the woes of others who have the misfortune of working with a manager who can’t … well, manage. In some situations it may feel like you’re in a toxic relationship.
Unfortunately there is no simple answer as to how or why people are placed into these managerial positions, and I am not going to try and explain. What I will explain are five ways to simply maintain your sanity while getting s#!t done.
1. Know your strengths
When someone micro manages, or under manages, it can feel like you are the problem. As people we often treat our work as a reflection of ourselves. If your work is poor, then so are you. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. For example, if you know you’re a clear and concise writer, that may be your style. Just because someone does something differently or provides feedback doesn’t mean that it’s “wrong”. Reminding yourself that you’re here to do a job and communicate something can help you not take it too personal. But hey, we’re humans and sometimes our ego gets in the way.
2. Establish a tight support group
Whether you’re balancing multiple projects or working on one, the support you receive is crucial in getting it done. Your manager may not be a great listener, even if they think they are. Depending on your position, you may feel comfortable seeking out a support group or a confidante. This could be co-workers, friends, family, whoever. But it has to be people you trust. You should be able to speak freely about what’s going on, without fear of judgement or repercussions. However, you want to ensure boundaries are set so you’re not just complaining. The best support groups work as a two way street. You should also be ready to listen to them and support them when needed.
3. Speak up, but don’t sound like a broken record
Communication is key. I cannot stress this enough. You should be open to constructive criticism but if it ever surpasses that point and you feel like you’re constantly in defense mode, learn to pick and choose your battles. Sometimes the frustration of explaining something over and over, can exacerbate a situation that probably isn’t worth your time in the first place. If you find yourself overthinking it and you feel the urge to speak up, do so. But hold off until you can collect all of your thoughts, to clearly (and professionally) explain what you need to. It may feel like you’re doing yourself a disservice by not speaking up at all. Exercise that first amendment, baby!
4. Time management
Let me start off by saying everyone should either own a planner or have access to a digital one. A planner allows you to dedicate a set amount of time to specific projects. Working on one project all day can be a total ball buster sometimes, but if you break it up it is that much more manageable and you can get other projects done.
You may be asking yourself what this has to do with your manager. Well, like a wise man named Bob Carter once said, “Poor planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine.” (Does anyone know who the right Bob Carter is that said this?) Managers that can’t manage people, usually can’t manage time either. That means you’re probably prone to tasks being thrown at you left and right and get asked for updates for one project while multi-tasking others. Here is where you set boundaries, letting your boss know (again, professionally) that you will get back to them as soon as you can. If possible, provide a realistic ETA. I also find it helpful to anticipate what they need and deliver project status updates so they can see exactly what’s on your plate before assigning more. The advantage? Get to them before they get to you. You’ll be proactive and it’ll be one less thing they have to ask for.
5. Work-life balance
Your personal life is more important. Sometimes we have to start the day a bit earlier, or work through lunch, or stay online a little longer, or all three! Whatever time you decide to log off for the day, stick to it. It can be hard to ignore work emails popping up on your phone or your personal laptop, or worse, Slack notifications, at all times of the day. I know I’m guilty it. Change your device preferences to “do not disturb” between your chosen hours. Most of our jobs already get 8–9 hours of us, don’t let them get the rest of your time too.
Remember, every challenge is a lesson that you can take with you through your career. As Queen B put it,
“always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper.”
Have additional tips for managing a boss who can’t manage others? Leave a comment — chances are we all need a few more!