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Bullying

7 Ways to Deal With a Bullying Boss

Always be prepared and forearmed.

Key points

  • It is a good strategy to be mentally prepared for an onslaught of bullying and to have an action plan in mind.
  • Always take the high road and be professional. Don't stoop to a bully's level.
  • Consider ways that you might be able to fight back, or alternatives that will allow you to get out of a bad situation.

It’s sad but true: There are far too many bullying bosses out there. A week doesn’t go by that I don’t hear from someone who has an intimidating, punitive, or outright bullying boss. Here are 7 strategies to help counteract or minimize a supervisor’s bullying behavior:

  1. Be Mentally Prepared. If your boss has a pattern of bad and abusive behavior, it’s important not to be caught unaware. Develop your mental resilience as best you can. Specifically, don’t fall prey to negative thinking if your boss is constantly putting you down.
  2. Be Proactive. One of the best ways to deal with a bullying boss is to have an action plan prepared ahead of time. Learn the subtle (or not so subtle) cues that your boss is about to “go off,” and either try to avoid an impending negative encounter, or get mentally prepared. As one client 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. Sometimes she's fine, but we always feel like we are walking into a trap." Be proactive by approaching the situation with a positive mental attitude. Display confidence and stay poised. If your boss is a bully, this will show that you are not intimidated by the behavior.
  3. Always Be Prepared. If your boss is about to go off, practice what you will say and do. Prepare comebacks. "When you do that, it isn't motivating me..." or "...it only makes us feel like you don't value our work..." or even stronger statements like "That kind of behavior is unacceptable." In all likelihood, your boss might fire back, so be prepared for that as well. If your boss begins to rant and rave, you can step away, saying, "I'll come back when you are calmer and civil." Think of it as a chess match, and be prepared several moves in advance.
  4. Take the High Road. Don’t get goaded into engaging into stooping to a bad boss’s level. Maintain a calm and professional manner in dealing with them, and don't get into a shouting match or let your emotions get out of hand. Be professional and straightforward.
  5. Fight Back. This may put your job at risk, but follow proper procedures for registering complaints with Human Resources or with higher-level superiors. If other employees who are being bullied will join you, your odds of success will be higher; there is indeed safety in numbers.
  6. Be Persistent. It isn't likely that your difficult boss situation will change overnight, so be prepared for the long haul. Also, be persistent in calling out their bad behavior, and putting your plan into action. Your coworkers might follow your lead and start to stand up to the boss as well — although you should be prepared for the boss to try to turn them against you, or for coworkers' possible lack of support. The key is to not let a boss get away with continuing their bad behavior.
  7. Consider Alternatives. In many instances, it’s best to leave and seek employment elsewhere. Always be on the lookout for ways to escape to a better environment. If you are able to find alternative employment, you can leave a negative review of your bullying boss on social media to warn others.

For more, see this test to find out if your boss is a bully.

References

Gary Namie & Ruth Namie (2009). The Bully at Work: What You Can Do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity on the Job (2nd ed.), Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks.

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More from Ronald E. Riggio Ph.D.
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