Ruwini, an ex-employee of mine, recently sent me an email. “I have a bullying boss. No, not one of those bad ordinary bosses who fails to give direction and recognition. This is the type of bad boss who really bullies, insults, lies, changes direction, blames others and verbally assaults your self-esteem – every day.”
Ruwini says she confronted the boss with his behaviour – nicely - but it didn’t put a dent in his game. She has talked to Human Resources but they threw their hands up in frustration. Apparently, the guy gets the job done and the higher ups like him. But, they’ve never seen him in action.
He’s on his best behaviour when senior managers or people from the HR staff are around. So, it’s almost impossible to communicate what you and your co-workers experience every day. No pattern of employees leaving exists, which would set off red flags, but the boss has only been in this position for a year. Half of the office is looking for new jobs.
Ruwini likes her job, her company and the co-workers. The only problem is the current boss. She is beyond self-pity and annoyance. She is scared but she can’t take the bullying any more. She has decided that she either needs to take action or get a new job. Those are her only remaining choices.
Like Ruwini, most people do not quit immediately when faced with a boss who seems closely related to Lucifer, but initially try various methods of dealing with him/her. One way is by trying to avoid contact with the person. The second would be to try to do one’s work as perfectly as possible, so as not to give him an excuse to be able to call you by what now seems to be your new names…imbecile, dolt, incompetent idiot.
If Ruwini decides to take action, it is fine. How she chooses to act is equally vital and the most important rule is to act in a way that is subtle and non-confrontational, so as to minimize the possibility that she may later on be blamed by the boss for her actions.
It is pointless to assume that there is ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution for handling a terrible boss. However, there are definitely practical ways to get around him and it will require time, patience and observation on your part to decide how best to act.
In order to act intelligently, you need to understand the profile of your bullying boss. Let me give you a few hints.
- Bullying bosses come back to attack their victims over and over again. They make it a point to tell the person that s/he is a fool who can never learn. Whatever the person may do, it is never good enough.
- A bullying boss does not bully everyone. He usually has his own set of sycophants who are always in his good books. Watch your boss carefully. How does he behave with his superiors? Does he go out of his way to show a different side to them? Does he demean you in public and make you squirm, using his power as a boss to do so? Does he seem to enjoy it? Remember the bullies in school? They attacked the kids who seemed vulnerable to them, who didn’t stand up to them. The same with bullying bosses! Somewhere down the line, their egos were damaged and now they are looking for punching bags.
- Bullying bosses’ responses are more like reactions. They fly off the handle over little issues. Do not even try to understand why he threw at you the report you had been slaving over, just because it was not in the right font.
- Bullying bosses very rarely take responsibility for their actions. You will often hear statements like- “I have to suffer fools, like you’’ or “You make me lose my temper.”
In the long run, bullying is only self-serving and sends the wrong message. Employees lose their motivation and self-confidence becoming pale shadows of their former selves. Thoughts which run through their heads may vary right from-“If I confronted him, my problems may just get worse.” Or “What if I lost my job; I just cannot afford that in these times of difficulties.” The worst would be where the victim actually believes that he or she is the loser or incompetent that the boss accuses him of being.
Here are four strategies to use to deal with your bullying boss.
1. Be proactive.
In all likelihood, you are frustrated with your difficult boss because he or she consistently displays bad behaviour. It is the pattern of bad behaviour that drives you crazy. The best way to deal with a difficult boss is to have a plan of action in place. As one young executive told me, “When the boss calls an ‘emergency’ staff meeting, we usually know that she is going to go off on us. She’ll either rant and rave or give us the icy and disgusted treatment. But sometimes she’s fine, but we always feel like we are walking into a trap.”
The key is to anticipate the boss’s bad behaviour. Have an action plan ready. If the boss behaves badly, put your plan into action. If the boss is on his/her best behaviour, reinforce the good behaviour (“Nice meeting.” “Thanks!”). Be proactive by approaching the situation with a positive mental attitude. Display confidence and stay poised.
2. Be prepared.
You likely know the difficult boss’ pattern of bad behaviour, so anticipate and prepare your responses beforehand. Write them on index cards and practice delivering them. “Boss, when you do that, it isn’t motivating me...” or “...it only makes us feel like you don’t value our work...” or stronger statements such as “That kind of behaviour is unacceptable. You also should anticipate the bad boss’ comeback and have your response or action plan in place. If the boss begins to rant and rave, you can leave and say, “I’ll come back when you are calmed down and civil.” Think of it as chess match and be prepared several “moves” in advance. You will also need to be prepared for the fallout of standing up to a difficult or bullying boss. The boss might single you out for even worse treatment or might sanction or fire you. That is why it is important to think things through beforehand. What are you willing to do? What are your options? Can you deal with the possible worst outcomes?
This is critically important. Always take the high road. Follow proper procedures for registering complaints with Human Resources or higher-level superiors. Maintain a calm and professional demeanour in dealing with your difficult boss and don’t get into a shouting match or let your emotions get out of hand. Don’t resort to name-calling or rumour-mongering but be straightforward and professional.
It isn’t likely that your difficult boss situation will change overnight, so be prepared for the long haul. Moreover, be persistent in calling out your boss’s bad behaviour and putting your plan into action. Your co-workers might follow your lead and start to stand up to the difficult boss as well (although you should be prepared for the boss to try to turn them against you or for your co-workers’ possible lack of support). The key is to not let your boss get away with continuing his/her bad behaviour.
However, before taking these steps, be sure that you are willing to take the consequences. You could just lose your job, since the higher authorities could take the side of your boss or even if some action is taken it might not be enough and you might land up worse off. So, do some networking and check out other job possibilities first. Get the support of family and friends, since they may have to cushion the fall out of your decision.
Remember to end the abuse, you may have to change jobs, it may not be fair but it is realistic and in the end it makes more sense. But don’t throw in the towel even before you put up a fair fight. Remember, we cannot let the bullies win. ‘The meek shall inherit the earth.’