Dealing With Problem Supervisors

It’’s well accepted that from time to time, we’re all going to have some kind of conflict with our immediate supervisors. After all, problems and issues will always surface occasionally within the workplace and it’s often the case that a ‘clear the air’ discussion benefits both the supervisor and the worker in order to move things on.

However, some supervisors will play on our need to earn money to survive and will try to constantly undermine us and to make like difficult and, whilst saying ‘stuff your job’ might have crossed all of our minds at some point, many of us do not have the luxury of being able to do that because of our financial commitments. Whilst we can’t control the behaviour of others, it isn’t acceptable that we should constantly be living in fear of a supervisor which can not only damage your work life but can spill over into your personal life too. So, if you are in that boat, how should you deal with a problem supervisor?

Don’t Rise to the Bait

Supervisors who tend to treat their workers badly for no reason often do so as they are the kind of people who like to provoke a reaction which in turn, to their way of thinking anyway, leaves the victim open to further attacks. It takes a lot of guts not to react to a personal attack but if you remain calm and acknowledge your supervisor’s remarks and say something along the lines of “Yes, I can see your point, sorry about that”, it diffuses the situation and renders it almost impossible for them to justify further attacks. In most cases, they will move on to the next person to try to wind up. However, it’s understandable that you could not expect to react in such a passive way continuously and if you feel that it’s you, personally, that the supervisor has a problem with, you may need to deploy other tactics.

Encourage Discussion

If a supervisor has it ‘in’ for you, it’s more than likely that they’ll criticise you because of some work related issue such as your performance, as opposed to simply chastising you on a personal level. Even the most arrogant supervisors realise that personal attacks leave them vulnerable to you taking legal action against them on discriminatory grounds so, if they do criticise you constantly about your work, don’t take it personally but use it as an opportunity to open some dialogue with them. By criticising your work, they are, in effect, saying that they would do it another way so instead of launching a verbal tirade, acknowledge that they have concerns and look to seek their advice on how they would do things another way. Tell them you really want to improve your performance and ask them how you could do that. It puts them on the back foot and forces them to come up with ideas for improvement in order to justify their criticism in the first place. And, if they don’t have an answer, they’re going to look pretty foolish.

Establish What Needs Doing and How it Should be Done

It’s important to get your supervisor to explain exactly what your role is and how they want it doing. That way, you’re left in no doubt as to what’s expected of you and, providing you carry that out to the letter, it leaves no room for your supervisor to criticise your performance. Always be Evaluating your Performance and ask yourself if you’re following through on what your supervisor expects. It’s often useful to speak to trusted colleagues to ask them if they think you’re carrying out your work in the correct manner and if they think you could realistically make further improvements to appease your supervisor.

Keep Things on a Professional Level

Even if you think you’re doing everything you can to please your supervisor, it’s a common fact of life that, in the workplace, some people aren’t going to take to you as a person and vice versa. This is quite natural – after all, you’re going to work, not having a night out with friends. Therefore, you should not naturally expect your supervisor to like you, or you to like them, but you need to put that to one side and be professional enough to accept that they are your immediate boss and that you should do what you can on a professional level to undertake your tasks in the manner they expect you to.

Try to Understand Their Perspective

Whenever we get criticised, we often take it personally. However, we’re not always aware of the background to the reasons for the criticism. For all you know, your supervisor may be getting a hard time from their boss too and it’s possible that the frustration they’re feeling is simply released onto you and colleagues of yours. Maybe your supervisor feels unworthy or undervalued so if you suspect that, it may be that by offering them some praise when you can see they’ve performed a task really well, it helps to alleviate their tension.

If All Else Fails?

If you still feel victimised after adopting any of the tactics above, there are a few other things you can do:

  • Firstly, try to drum up the support of some of your other colleagues. They may have been ‘picked on’ too and have kept quiet about it for fear of upsetting the apple cart. You’ll have more clout if you decide to take things to a higher level if more than one of you has a particular grievance with a supervisor. Remember, to a boss, he’d much rather fire one lousy supervisor than a group of able employees!
  • Secondly, don’t go to your boss until you’ve absolutely exhausted every option available to you to resolve the situation with your supervisor. It may backfire on you and you may end up being treated worse.
  • Finally, if you feel you’re getting nowhere, try to have a Plan B – in other words, before you walk out; try to ensure that you have another job to go to. Alternatively, be certain that in taking further action outside the company, you have sought advice and have been assured that you have good legal grounds to pursue a case.

Last Updated on 25 May 2021

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