How to Deal with a Tough Manager with 4 Simple Tips

Today's blog post is written by Stephanie Rodriguez. Stephanie holds a Bachelors degree in Marketing from Michigan State University. Stephanie currently works at Discover Financial Services in the Marketing Internship Program.


One of the major differences between undergrad and Corporate America is you do not have a choice who you work with– sort of like one big group project that continues. Unlike college, you are not surrounded by 20 somethings who for the most part are looking to fly by in the classroom, you are surrounded by a variety of people of all ages, backgrounds, and work ethics.

The person, besides yourself, who has the most weight when it comes to your success is your manager. Depending on your company that person may write your yearly reviews, assign work, or even make recommendations about your ideas/thoughts on your behalf. Similar to professors in undergrad, not all managers will support you or make things fair or easy.  The reality is not everyone is cut out to be a people manager for many reasons, but somehow these people end up in a position where they are your manager.  So, what should you do if you get a manager who is just tough to work with?

  1. Be clear and transparent.  Often times with your manager you need to be clear, transparent, and to the point. If someone is difficult to work with, often times it is because they have so many other things going on that are important to them and they are unable to focus directly on your need(s). You want to make it abundantly clear what you need from them and then make it as easy as possible for your need to be delivered. You always want to make it easy for your manager to help you. Be concise in your written communication, seek them out the way they want to be sought out (phone call, in person discussion, or email), and summarize your thoughts after every discussion.
  2. Try to get know them on a personal level.  A lot of times your manager will be busy and zoned in on their work. Take a step back from the work and take some time to get to them on a personal level.   They may feel more inclined to open up to you and feel comfortable, which will enhance your working relationship. Remember, they are people too! Ask about their kids, favorite sports team, a memento from a vacation on their desk, or the best question “How was your weekend?”.
  3. Seek other mentors.  More times than not you really want your manager to serve as a mentor – someone to guide you, advise you, and provide feedback. A lot of times managers are classified as “tough” because all they will assign, return, and review your work – they are not focused on you. Millennials often times have the mentality that “it is all about me.” If you feel your manager is not supporting you the way you need to be supported, seek other mentors. Reach out to other members on your team who see your day to day work and get their feedback on your performance.  A mentor can also be from other areas in the company, or even your peers.
  4. Set up monthly development discussions.  Lastly, the best way to get someone to focus is to establish time for that topic. Schedule a monthly meeting with your manager dedicated to the topic of your development. This will force your manager to have the conversation with you if they are not prone to providing in the moment feedback or they do not make it a habit to provide it continually. 

In the real world, you have no choice who you work with. While you may have thought in college working with a bunch of frat boys, nerds, or slackers are challenging – wait until the real world. Every day you will deal with people of all backgrounds and these people can also end up being your manager. Keeping the above tips top of mind with any manager/employee relationship will help make that relationship stronger, and will be mutually beneficial.