Boss Threatens Firing!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about boss’ threats to fire:

My boss always uses threats of firing as “motivational” talks. He is always calling me, (I am the executive editor here) into his office and threatens to fire either me or members of my staff for reasons that are totally beyond our realm of control. He does this to manipulate and control, and I am so tired of it… What can I do (besides workplace violence)?

Signed, Tired of Threatening

Dear Tired of Threatening:

Your boss may be well intentioned, but misguided about how to motivate and manage. He has learned to get what he wants or thinks he wants by bully tactics. You don’t say how you respond to these threats. Nor do you describe how assignments are made, the workload of your staff, or the frequency of interaction with your boss.

Can you change how your boss manages? Possibly, but changing habits, even our own, has no quick fix. The direct approach: Prepare yourself for that next time you are called into his office and threatened. Be ready, if he accompanies a criticism with a threat, to say, “Let’s be specific about what displeases you. What is it you want done differently and I’ll do my best to please you, but I don’t respond well to firing threats.” Then unless he brings up the threat again, simply focus on addressing the criticism.Or if you want to be proactive, schedule a meeting with him. Invite him into your office or a private conference room, preferably a neutral space that is not in his territory. State the purpose of such a meeting is to review how well you and he are working together. This is the time to briefly state your commitment to do good work and to make your company/agency a success.

Ask for a performance appraisal of your work. Listen to what he says. In his presence put his words in writing and read them back to him to learn if you understand with what he is pleased and displeased. Plan together what you might do to make your performance more effective and his job easier. Follow this with a description of how his threats make you feel, “When you threaten to fire me, I feel like my work is not valued and appreciated. It does not make me feel like I have been called in to solve a problem, but to be whipped. I would like to correct and prevent mistakes, but I do not respond well to threats of firing. From now on can we just focus on how to get assignments done and done well and skip the firing threats? If I am not doing work to your satisfaction, say so. If I can not please you, then fire me.” Indirect approach: Possibly you might prevent threats if you could come to an agreement of a time to confer in advance on assignments (what, when, how) on a regular basis and to review them–How clearly are they outlined and of what does your boss want to be informed of and what needs his approval?

In short, who are your internal and external customers? What do they want? And when do you know if they are satisfied with your work? Conferring on such matters as these should be frequent. Can you help your boss to see you as a team member who is working at a reasonable speed to get the jobs done as you would if you were he and as if you owned your company? Can you talk in terms of we, our, and us? Might it be possible to help your boss to see himself as a team leader who calls the whole team in to skull sessions before and after assignments? If so, that will transform his role from driver of slaves to coach of team members who want to cheer each other on.

Do these thoughts sound sensible to you? If so, make a list of 3-10 ways you would like to be managed. You may find an appropriate occasion or make an appointment with your boss to talk about them. See your self as one who adds value to what ever you are assigned. And see you role as not only to please but also to be pleased with your job. Working effectively is an interdependent process, one we symbolize by thinking WEGO. Will you let us know what you do and what works and does not?

William Gorden