December 20, 2011

How to Cope with a Disagreeable Boss

You passed the interview and got the job but a week in you're wondering what happened to that sweet, smiling face of the person who shook your hand at the interview? The whole point of the interview process is generally to get a feel for personality fit but sometimes a person's true character can be a bit muddled under all of the pressure of selling one's self and/or the company position. It is possible that, a couple weeks in, you may find that you keep butting heads with your boss, who now comes off as irritable and difficult to please. When your internship has only just begun, you may be wondering if it's even possible for you to leave this internship alive let alone with your reputation intact and a glowing recommendation under your belt.

I could try sugar-coating this type of situation with unicorns and rainbows, but let's be honest: this sucks. BUT it's not the end of the world and you can take steps to turn it around. The very least you can do for yourself is to not make things worse.

Find an outlet for your frustration
Allow me to clarify: It's ok to go home and pummel your pillow or let out a rebel yell in an isolated, sound-proof room. But whatever you do, do not let out your frustration by yelling at your boss, complaining to a co-worker, or tweeting words you'd never dream of saying to your boss's face. If you're under the impression that doing any of these things will not come back to bite you, you should go immediately to a corner and think again until you've convinced yourself otherwise. Why don't you want to vent this way? 1. Your boss's network is undoubtedly greater than yours and your name will be Mud to everyone within it. 2. Office gossip almost assuredly reaches outsider ears. 3. Your boss might not be in the wrong. That's right, you heard me.

Consider that your boss is not being unreasonable
I know you may feel like the victim but sit back and consider for a moment that your boss may not be intentionally trying to ruin your life. While you're sitting there, steaming about how mistreated you are, he/she could be in the office pulling chunks of hair out over how to finally get across to that intern. Your boss may be feeling equally as stuck and frustrated as you are. But, don't get me wrong, this doesn't necessarily mean that you're "the problem" either. Most likely, there's some sort of communication barrier here that neither one of you has yet found a way to cross.

Talk it out
After you've found an appropriate, non-destructive way to vent your frustrations and you've calmed down a bit, try talking to your boss. Explain how you're feeling (but avoid pointing fingers). Exactly what you say here depends quite a bit on what you feel the issue is. Are you uncomfortable with things your boss has been saying to you? Are you feeling overwhelmed with too many projects to do in the given amount of time? Are you consistently being scolded for mistakes in your work and you're not sure how to prevent them? Be honest and try to remain calm while you explain.

Shut up and listen
Once you've communicated your side of the story, pretty much the only thing you can do is listen to what your boss has to say, take note (literally, take note!) of any advice/critiques, and try your very best to implement them. It's possible the relationship between the two of you may remain unchanged and you'll continue to butt heads every now and again until the day you both let out a sigh of relief that the internship is finally over. Or starting a dialog could show that you're really trying your best and actively trying to improve and your boss may learn that he/she hasn't been communicating with you as effectively as he/she thought.

If things don't improve, it's important to remember that it could simply be the case that your personalities and/or learning-teaching styles just aren't lining up. It doesn't mean that your boss is a terrible person or that you're a slacker; just that perhaps this position wasn't the best fit for you and vice versa. So don't beat yourself up over it and try not to get upset. Just do the best you can and cross it off the list of valuable learning experiences.

Katie Hazard | Digital Artist, User Experience Designer
khazard@internlikearockstar.com | @katie_hazard