Bullying Boss

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about bully boss:

My boss is a bully. In a staff of 10 there are three targets of her bullying and I am one of them. Other staff have tried to bring this to her attention but she is not hearing it. She wonders why I don’t speak up or have more confidence. I am just plain afraid of getting emotionally and psychologically beat up yet another time. I am told Bullying is NOT ILLEGAL. So what is my recourse? Is my other choice to find other work?

Signed, Beaten Down Mentally

Dear Beaten Down Mentally:

If your organization is large enough to have ten staff people, perhaps it has an HR section, a legal advisor or someone higher than your boss, to whom you could appeal treatment that you view as bullying. Perhaps you and the other two people can consult with an attorney and find out if you have any civil recourse, even though there is no law violation. If there is nothing you can do, you will have to decide whether it is worth it to stay or if you’d rather leave and find a better workplace.We have discovered on this site that the term “bullying” can refer to a wide range of behaviors–from not smiling to raising the voice, to yelling, to throwing things. I don’t know if you are a shy person or unassertive, but we have often found that the employee or coworker being bullied has never asked for better treatment, never complained and never acted openly as though the bullying is unwelcome. With a boss I know it becomes very difficult, because all of us tend to feel intimidated. But, at some point, each of us makes the decision whether or not we will tolerate it. And, if we decide to tolerate it, we either find ways to deal with it or we stay miserable.

Life is too valuable for that. An effective person in the world of work usually learns to work around or through all types, including people who are unpleasant and those who are timid. But ultimately, staying in a job is not compulsory and you can quit. Dr. Gorden refers to that as voting with your feet. First, of course, you should identify what it is that is making your boss so unhappy. It could be that things would improve if you changed some aspect of work or the results you get. We heard from one person who was continually in trouble because he didn’t do his work the way his boss wanted it done. We suggested he start doing that, even though he insisted it wasn’t the best way. His boss wasn’t sweet to him, but the anger stopped. On the other hand, some mean people just find something new to be angry about. You know your situation best.You say that your coworkers have tried to talk to your boss. So, at least you know you have some champions. Could you find a way to let that be enough? The people who matter the most know what you’re dealing with. In some ways the boss’s actions can even be a running joke. I once worked with someone who yelled and threatened about what he would do if things didn’t change with a situation. He wasn’t my boss but he was our most valued client and I was expected to be conciliatory at all costs. I used to say, mentally “That’s $2 I just made in my salary. That’s $5.50. That’s $10.25. If he yells for a few more minutes I’ll have enough to buy lunch for the next couple of days.” It was never pleasant to hear him yell, but it stopped bothering me, because I just figured he was a jerk and I wasn’t going to internalize it.

The reason I could do that was because I knew there was really nothing he could DO to me, he could only yell. Perhaps it would help you to think about what you believe is the worst thing your boss can do if she’s angry. Do you think she will hit you? Do you think she will fire you? Is she going to frown? Shout obscenities? Threaten you in some other way? Maybe you can look at it practically and say that as long as you’re not physically being threatened, the rest of it will go through a mental filter and you’ll screen out the mean words.I doubt that you will change your outward manner of responding to your boss when she uses harsh words, unless you have a compelling reason to do so. I also doubt your boss will change her harsh words and actions, unless there is a compelling reason for her to do so. So, that leaves you to decide what you want to do next.

Some would probably suggest that you just look for someplace else and leave as though it is a normal career move. I tend to think it sends a better message when you simply stop in the middle of a chewing-out and get up and leave. Unfortunately, that would probably effect payouts and getting vacation money, getting a reference, and all of that. So, the drama appeals to me but the reality may not be so appealing! I’d love to hear that you have found a way to stop the behavior or to deal with it yourself. But, if you can’t do that, you’ll probably feel much better someplace else. I don’t know what work you do, but there may be a place for you in a much, much nicer environment.Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how you are able to resolve this.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.