"You idiot!" "Monkeys could do a better job." "Utter incompetence." These are direct quotes from Joseph Damon’s Big Bad Boss. He’s a regular reader/listener who sent in the following e-mail:
"Recently my boss has taken an uber-aggressive attitude with me and my co-workers. I don’t know what gives but I almost feel like it’s bordering on abuse. What do you recommend I do?"
Well Joseph, you raise an excellent question with an annoyingly vague answer. While every situation is different, and I’m, by no means an expert (I haven’t been having the best luck with this situation recently, either), I will outline a few options. I ask that readers of the Jobacle blog add their two cents too – and maybe together – we can get your bully boss to pipe down.
Push back, immediately. Like most abusive relationships things get worse over time as the bully feels empowered that they can get away with this behavior. The tricky part is HOW to push back. One tactic that I have found pretty effective is to simply tell your boss, "Your tone is making me uncomfortable" or "can we please pick this up a little later when things are calmer." While a boss can get you to apologize for making a mistake (or not!) but they can’t have you apologize for feeling a certain way. "Your point is well-taken, but I would appreciate it if you didn’t direct such negative language towards me."
Point to past successes. If your boss is disappointed or angered over a recent "failure" and takes a combative tone – remind him/her of past successes. Sure the corporate world is driven by a "what have you done for me lately" mentality, but if he thinks you’re an idiot, he’s the idiot who hired you.
Engage. Strong eye contact is a must. Your eyes darting away or looking sheepishly away is like blood to a shark – they’ll only bite faster and more furiously. You don’t need to puff out your chest and stare down the enemy – but keep your posture firm and your eyes focused.
Write it down. You’re not rat but you are a cautious cat. If these instances of verbal abuse are happening regularly you should be jotting them down in a notepad. When, where, what was said and who else was in the room or within earshot. Eventually, this information can be parlayed into an official memo to either your boss, your boss’s boss and/or HR. They key is to make it factual and unemotional. Never send it via e-mail. You might look back at the words and realize things aren’t as bad as you originally thought – or maybe they’re worse.
Frequently, this question of tape recording a boss’s rant comes up. Can anyone speak to that point?
Be accountable. If you get roped into something that was not your fault – you might want to consider taking a tiny slice of the blame. Nothing irks a boss more than a lack of accountability. A small concession can save you hours on lecturing meetings.
Gain leverage. Having your resume ready to fly will give you the confidence you need to battle back with courage. Make sure it’s updated every few months so you can jet outta there if necessary.
As always, there’s plenty of other tactics – and we want to hear about them from YOU. Don’t get pushed around. Nip it in the bud ASAP and I guarantee – while you might not win the war at work – you will win the internal battle kicking around inside your head.
**Also check out this interesting article on the science of the bully phenomenon.**