Trending Topics

8 practical strategies to communicate with a difficult supervisor

The application of emotional intelligence can be a powerful tool to foster a positive working relationship


Navigating challenging relationships with difficult supervisors requires a combination of emotional intelligence, patience and effective communication skills.

Getty Images

Effective communication lies at the heart of a harmonious and productive work environment. This is particularly crucial in police work, where collaboration, trust and clear understanding are essential for successful outcomes.

However, at times, police officers may find themselves dealing with difficult supervisors who present challenges to effective communication. In such situations, the application of emotional intelligence can be a powerful tool to navigate these complexities and foster a positive working relationship.

  1. Develop self-awareness: The first step toward effective communication is developing self-awareness. By understanding your own emotions, triggers and communication style and recognizing your emotional state and potential biases, you can approach conversations with greater empathy and self-control.
  2. Cultivate empathy: Empathy is a cornerstone of emotional intelligence. Seek to understand your supervisor’s perspective, challenges and motivations. Put yourself in their shoes, considering the demands and pressures they face. This mindset shift can help you approach discussions with compassion and patience.
  3. Active listening: Active listening is a fundamental skill in effective communication. Give your supervisor your full attention, maintain eye contact and demonstrate genuine interest. Listen not only to the words spoken but also to the underlying emotions and concerns. Reflect on what is being said before formulating a response.
  4. Choose the right time and place: Timing and environment can significantly impact the success of a conversation. Find an appropriate time and place to discuss concerns or issues with your supervisor. Avoid confrontations in public or during busy times. Select a calm and private setting that promotes open dialogue.
  5. Use constructive feedback: When providing feedback or addressing concerns, use a constructive approach. Focus on specific behaviors or actions rather than criticizing the person. Be respectful and tactful in your delivery, using “I” statements to express how their behavior affects you or the team. This helps prevent defensiveness and encourages receptiveness to your message.
  6. Clarify expectations: Miscommunication often arises due to unclear expectations. Seek clarity from your supervisor about their expectations, goals and priorities. When assigned a task or project, ensure you have a clear understanding of what is required, deadlines and any specific guidelines. This helps avoid misunderstandings and reduces the potential for conflicts.
  7. Manage emotions: Dealing with a difficult supervisor can be emotionally challenging. Practice emotional self-regulation by staying calm and composed, even in stressful situations. Avoid responding impulsively or letting frustration dictate your actions. Take a deep breath, count to 10, or take a short break to gather your thoughts and approach the conversation rationally.
  8. Seek solutions: Approach conversations with a problem-solving mindset. Instead of focusing solely on the issues, propose potential solutions or alternatives. Collaborate with your supervisor to find common ground and reach mutually beneficial outcomes.

Navigating challenging relationships with difficult supervisors requires a combination of emotional intelligence, patience and effective communication skills. By developing self-awareness, practicing empathy and active listening, and utilizing constructive feedback, police officers can foster positive working relationships, even in demanding environments.

NEXT: The leadership traits cops are looking for in their supervisors

Jean Kanokogi, Ph.D., is a recently retired Senior Special Agent from the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations with extensive experience in conducting myriad investigations, including several high-profile cases. She is a sought-after speaker and presenter in corporate, law enforcement and mental health arenas as she connects with people through her expertise in resilience, emotional intelligence, deception detection, interviewing skills, firearms/martial arts tactics, and humor – she keeps it real.

She has authored numerous mental health and law enforcement-related articles for professional journals. She holds a B.S. and M.S in Criminal Justice/Protection Management and a Ph.D. in Psychology. She is the co-author of the award-winning best seller, “Get up & Fight: The Memoir of Rusty Kanokogi” and tells the story of how one ordinary woman changed the world for so many.

Jean is the Director of Mental Health and Peer Support Services for the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. She works daily to bridge the gap between law enforcement and mental wellness. She is a 9/11 first responder and uses her experience to help others with Post Traumatic Growth. She is a Department of Homeland Security Senior Instructor on all behavioral science topics and has worked with the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group. She is a 6th-degree black belt in judo and was a member of the U.S. National Judo Team.

Her website is