Overcoming a Personality Clash with Your Boss

Photo of a career woman with boxing gloves on.

Humans are social creatures that work toward common goals. It has been like this since the beginning. But before we can hunt a mammoth, build a tower or analyze quarterly spreadsheets, we need to accept that our teammates may have viewpoints and approaches that conflict with our own. When we don’t agree, we have to find common ground before we can move forward. And usually we do — we find a way to share our strengths and communicate until our obstacles disappear.

But not always. There are some obstacles that simply can’t be overcome, no matter how hard we try. And unfortunately, a personality clash with a boss isn’t quite the same as a personality clash with a peer. If you and a coworker disagree, you can call in a referee. But if you and your boss simply can’t see past your differences, one of you will probably have to go. As in, leave the room, leave the project or leave the workplace altogether. And chances are it won’t be your boss.

So how can you learn to live with — and take orders from — somebody with whom you have absolutely nothing in common? If your boss makes your blood run blue, or she insists that black is white and down is up, how can you get your job done and move forward without betraying who you are?

Perspective Is Key

First, back up. All the way up. Remember that somewhere beyond this little conference room, the Grand Canyon is slowly and majestically carving its way through layers of rock laid eons ago when the earth was young. The world is an ancient and mysterious place full of magic and wonder. And nothing happening in this room has the power to change that fact. You’re here because you need to make a living and help this company reach its goals. Whatever happens between you and your boss, life will go on. Don’t become so enmeshed in the moment that you lose perspective and make foolish, short-sighted decisions.

Second, ask yourself one question: How badly do you need this job? If your boss is asking you to do something that betrays your ethical principles or your core character, a change of venue may be closer and easier than you realize. As indispensable as this position may seem, and as impossible as a career change may look from here, jobs come and go. Employees leave positions and find new ones every day, and if thousands of others can make this change, so can you.

On the other hand, if you’ve made up your mind to stay, then stay. Let nothing stop you. Remember that the flexible reed survives the windstorm while the rigid oak tree falls over. If you’re determined to be here one, three or five years from now whether your boss stays or goes, put your own feelings and your own ego to the side. Open your ears and make an honest effort to see the world the way she does. Once you begin to recognize that up really can be down, and black may actually be white, or at least greyish, you’ll find the strength and the trust to do what’s being asked of you.

Make Your Choice, Then ActIf you’re ready to see what else is out there, visit LiveCareer and find out more about the career options waiting all around you. If you’re staying put, LiveCareer can help with that too. Improve your negotiation skills to get what you need while giving up a little bit of what you want. Learning to compromise can help move the company forward, and it may even expand your horizons a bit and help you grow as a person.

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