Bully bosses over-control, micromanage, and display contempt for others, usually by repeated verbal abuse and sheer exploitation. They look over your shoulder. They constantly put others down with snide remarks or unfair criticism. Nowadays, most bullies are weeded out before they get to the very top of big companies, but some still thrive in middle management.
Bully bosses can do a lot of damage. They keep you in a state of psychological emergency. When you add the anger you feel towards the bully and your frustration for putting up with such behavior, it hardly creates a prime condition for doing your best work, or any work at all.
These are never easy situations to resolve but here are some tactics that can help you to cope with your bully boss:
- Confront your bully boss. It can be startlingly effective. Bullies lack boundaries on their own behavior. A boss can’t bully if you don’t let yourself be bullied. Conduct the confrontation in neutral territory such as coffee or lunch chat in a location outside of your department.
- Don’t play armchair psychologist. Restrict the discussion to specific behaviors. Don’t try to analyze why your boss behaves in negative ways.
- Make your boss aware by showing him or her the consequences of his behavior on others. Awareness is not enough; help your boss figure out what to do. Specify the behavioral change you want.
- Point out how the boss’s behavior is seen by others. “You embarrass me when you publicly humiliate me in a meeting, but you also embarrass yourself. You are demonstrating your weakness.”
- Recruit allies. Standing up for yourself can stop a bully by earning his/her respect. But it could also cost your job. The higher your boss is in the organization, the more important it is for you to have allies. Check with your co-workers to see if the boss is bullying them.
- If the company you work for is large enough to have one, talk to the human resources department. Companies often don’t learn about bullying experiences until an exit interview. Sadly, in a smaller organization you may have little choice except to leave.
- Set firm boundaries to take care of yourself. No person, including your boss, can force you to do something without your implicit or explicit consent. Setting boundaries means deciding things you are not willing to do, no matter what pressure someone places on you. For example, your boss may try to intimidate you into staying late at work to help them with a project, but if you don’t really want to, you always have the option to say “no” and go home. Setting firm boundaries lets a bully know they cannot use you and gives you back your control of how you choose to respond to others.
- Ignore your bully boss if he or she communicates in an inappropriate manner. You do not need to tolerate management by intimidation from a bully boss. Bullying behavior usually continues because it works. A workplace bully usually wants you to become defensive or feel helpless as a reaction to their behavior.
Every time you allow a bully to get a reaction out of you, you are giving away your personal power. Don’t fight fire with fire by becoming aggressive or hostile yourself; do not start explaining yourself when a bully makes fun of you. Instead, act as if they didn’t exist or they’re not important.