How To Face A Frustrated Boss?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a difficult boss: He demoralizes us every time, demotivates, and suppresses us by pointing up our weaknesses and what we lack.

I’m a victim of a highly frustrated boss who shouts and insults me in the presence of a work group. He demoralizes us every time, demotivates, and suppresses us by pointing up our weaknesses and what we lack. Please tell me how to tackle such a boss.

Signed, Put Down

Dear Put Down:

I can tell from what you write that to say you are feeling low is an understatement. Yet you give so little detail it’s difficult to do more that answer your question in general terms. My advice might be different if I knew the nature of your company, how long you have worked under this boss, and also know the quality of your performance. But it is evident that you are frustrated enough to ask for help because you no longer want to bite your tongue and be put down.

I will suggest several overlapping options of what you might do. However, first wouldn’t be wise to prepare a list of instances in which your boss has put you down? Log those times you can recall when he has insulted, shouted, and pointed out your weaknesses and what you and your coworkers lack. Be as specific as you can about the dates, what prompted his bad behavior, his exact words, who was his target and who was present. Note how you or others have responded to him. And log what he does over the next week or two. Make several copies and keep them in safe places, but don’t gossip about logging your boss’ behavior.

Next, see this as a problem-solving process. What you want is a boss that treats you and your coworkers with respect; in short you want a healthy working boss-bossed relationship. The logging should help you define what is wrong, just as if your boss-bossed interaction were to be diagnosed for some illness by a doctor. The doctor would look for the symptoms; where it hurts, what it looks like, how intense it is and its extent. Once that is defined, the next step is to ask why; what causes your boss’s bad behavior? Is it that you and/or your coworkers are incompetent and/or irresponsible or that the assignments are beyond your training? Could it rather be that your boss has learned that his tough-demeaning talk works; it makes you jump when he barks frog. So long as he gets what he wants, will not his barking continue, and you and your coworkers will work scared?

With these steps complete you are ready to choose what to do: Confront him individually, Meet with him as a work group, Bypass him and meet with his boss and/or your Personnel or Human Resources departments. If you were the one about whom others had a bad working relationship, would you want complaints to be brought to you first or to be secretly reported? I expect that you would want them first to be brought to you.

Therefore, decide if you want to confront him the next time he insults you or you would prefer to have a private meeting about it. Think of the words you might use the next time he insults you, such as, “Sam, if you have a problem with something I’ve done wrong or not done, I’m willing to talk about how that might be corrected. Don’t insult me if you want me to listen to you.” Or if he insults you could say, “Let’s find a time to talk about this so that it doesn’t happen again.”

Another approach is for you and your co-workers to request that the agenda for your next staff meeting include: Ways we might communicate effectively. Such a meeting could surface what deserves applause and what needs improvement, who does what and how you might help make one another’s work more effective and easier, and the way criticism is and should not be given.

So often work groups avoid talking about how they communicate. If you scan our Q& As, you will see that from time to time I advise work groups schedule a do and don’t communication rule-making session.This is a way to focus on your work group’s communication rather than on only your boss’. Such important rules surface as don’t gossip about team mates, don’t yell, don’t whisper about something, don’t talk about others negatively; do ask rather than order, do offer to help when you have time, do say please and thank you, do take time to get instructions clear, do meet each week to review how things are going.

Our site has hundreds of Q&As on bossing. They serve as forewarning and ways to forearm one’s self. Here are a two of them: Boss Put-Downs Make Me Drop It! and Bully Boss!

The hard fact is that bully bosses often have learned to boss by belittling and bullying and that they don’t change easily. So consider the suggestions you find in our Q&As and take action you feel is most likely to meet your boss-bossed communication. Don’t be obsessed with this. See it as problem-solving that is part of your job. Think WEGO. You don’t want to make your boss look bad. Save his ego. Rather you simply want to stop your boss’s bullying put downs. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

William Gorden