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How to manage a demanding boss

Most of us know what it's like to work for a demanding boss but that doesn't mean you can't change the situation.Here's what you can do.

Most of us know what it's like to work for a demanding boss but that doesn't mean you can't change the situation. If your manager repeatedly makes unrealistic requests, here's what you can do.

Demanding or challenging?

Life coach and best-selling author Cheryl Richardson once said, "Your best teacher is the person offering you your greatest challenge." When you are dealing with a manager who you regard as unreasonable, ask yourself what makes them so demanding for you.

'You might think a deadline is too tight or a project is beyond your ability, but your manager might know better,' says career coach Ruth Winden of Careers Enhanced. (http://careersenhanced.com/)

'Good bosses challenge you to grow and develop new skills. If you feel stressed by your manager's demands, first ask yourself whether they are being unreasonable – or whether you are feeling anxious and uncomfortable because they are pushing you out of your comfort zone.'

When demands are unreasonable

'A degree of stretch is healthy for your learning and motivation,' agrees David Shindler, career coach and author of Learning To Leap. (http://amzn.to/1GnQYRc) 'Problems arise when the demands are unreasonable. For example, because you lack the experience, skills or knowledge to complete a task, work overload, competing priorities, lack of resources or information, vague scope and inappropriate timescale.'

So how do you say 'no' without saying 'no'? David has several suggestions.

'Ask your boss for greater direction and support or tap into their experience and wisdom and ask them to coach you. If you have too much on your plate, there are three things you can do: 1) Ask for priorities to be ranked in terms of urgency and importance, 2) negotiate a different timescale or agree a different result to fit the time and resources available, 3) change your methodology, which may include delegating tasks or enlisting the help of other colleagues.'

Decode the reasons why

If your manager is consistently unreasonable, you need to take a direct approach. 'People often feel powerless to change relationships, and either never try or give up too soon,' says Ruth. 'They complain rather than influence the situation. Over time, this can create a toxic work environment.'

Instead of bitching about your boss, try to figure out what's motivating their behaviour. For example, a chat with colleagues may reveal that your manager leans on employees they can trust. While this information won't magically lighten your workload, it may influence how you ask them to change their delegation strategy.

'Many complaints about "difficult managers" come from employees who feel micro-managed. Yes, there are bosses with a strong need for control – but not all managers who micro-manage their staff fall into that category. They will have reasons why they check everything you do. But unless you address the issue head-on, you won't know the reasons or how you can change things,' adds Ruth.

Re-train a micro-manager

If you want things to change, you need to have a conversation with your boss about what's important to you, your capabilities and the level of contribution you want to make.

'Agree on a way forward where you feel more in control. Accept that a micro-managing boss still needs to feel he is in control, at least at the beginning. Together, choose one (small) project where you are in charge,' says Ruth.

'Offer reassurance by agreeing how you will keep him informed of progress. Accept that at the beginning your boss might find it hard to adjust and be tempted to check on you. Make sure you don't let him fall back into his old behaviour and remind him of your agreement.

'Show how capable you are and run a successful project. Over time your boss will hopefully recognise there is no need to check every move you make. For a busy manager, this should be a relief, not a threat.'

Your work-life balance

There will be times where you need to put in extra hours but it's important to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

'It's fine to work long hours and/or to take work home but this needs to be a temporary solution,' warns Rob Williams, an occupational psychologist and author of Passing Verbal Reasoning Tests (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Brilliant-Passing-Verbal-Reasoning-Tests/dp/1292015454) and Passing Numerical Reasoning Tests (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Brilliant-Passing-Numerica...).

'Your manager may demand your immediate attention at work, but that doesn't mean they can expect you to consistently prioritise your working life over your home life.

'Asking to work from home can put some distance between your daily priorities and your boss's whims. Unless your role involves being on call outside work hours, agree that you will switch off devices once you leave the office and won't respond to work emails over the weekend.'

Go to them with solutions

The next time your manager tries to add another piece of work to your growing to-do list, assess your workload before you approach them.

'Making a detailed list of everything you're working on, including who else is involved and the corresponding deadlines, will help you see your workload in its entirety and give you the back-up you need when talking to your boss,' says Rob.

'Make sure you have prepared some alternative solutions. Whether it's extending the deadline on another project, delegating some tasks to colleagues or bringing in extra resources, go to your manager with solutions – rather than just showing them you can't do it.'

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