Dealing with a Bully Boss

Some bosses are more like bullies than managers. They yell and scream and berate their staff just because they can. Learn how to push back appropriately and you will impress your Bully Boss. Push back the wrong way and you could get fired. If any of the following scenarios sound familiar, you may be working for a Bully Boss.

• Boss makes ludicrous accusations and then does not allow you to speak in order to defend yourself or explain the situation.

• Boss puts you down in front of coworkers or in client meetings.

• Boss makes outrageous requests and then questions your competence in private or in the presence of others.

You have to let a bully boss know that you won’t tolerate their repugnant behavior; and you must draw the line they’re not allowed to cross early in the working relationship. At some point you will have to confront your boss about their unprofessional behavior. Do not get emotional and do not raise your voice. If a Bully Boss tries to bait you by saying something personal, ignore the statement and stick to the issue at hand. Consider the following scenario.

It was only 1 p.m. when David finished preparing his boss’s presentation for the board meeting later that evening. With four unexpected hours to spare, David realized this was the perfect opportunity to start researching the invoicing procedure that his boss wanted restructured. It was David’s first year with the consulting firm and he was eager to get noticed.

David closed his office door behind him and walked down the steps to meet with the accounts payable staff. Two hours later, as David was talking with the supervisor of the department, his boss walked by and noticed David drinking a soda and chatting with Greg.

Bully Boss: David! I can’t believe you’re sitting here chitchatting when you have a board presentation to deliver to me by 5 p.m. today. Get up. Go to your desk and do the work we pay you for.

David: Actually I was just...

Bully Boss: Didn’t you hear me? I don’t know how I could have possibly made myself clearer. What part of your synapse is misfiring? Let’s go, now.

David follows his boss back upstairs to their offices. As his boss entered his own office, David saw him notice the board presentation lying neatly on his desk. David was furious and decided to confront his boss right then. He reminded himself to stick to the facts of what had just happened.

David: I left you a voicemail a little before 1 p.m. to inform you the presentation was finished and to let you know that if you wanted to go over it together I would be in the accounts payable office researching the invoicing procedures that you asked me to look into. To complete the restructuring of the invoicing procedure, I am going to need Greg’s help. I’m concerned that my credibility with him may have been damaged by your implication that I was wasting time in accounts payable when I should have been working on a presentation for you. He doesn’t know that my work was completed because you did not give me the opportunity to respond to you down there. I can understand how you may have been concerned to see me somewhere other than in my office if you weren’t aware the work was finished. However, if this is how you intend to handle these kinds of miscommunications in the future, I’m concerned about how we’re going to work together.

The Bully Boss may get even more brutish at this point, or they may apologize. You cannot control their behavior, but you can control your own. Address the situation calmly and do not get emotional. Be polite and keep strictly to the facts. Keep in mind that you are attempting to resolve an issue, not win an argument. Your goal is make the Bully Boss realize that it is no fun to pick on you because you refuse to take the bait. You also stick up for yourself and refuse to be pushed around.

Get more tips for dealing with bad bosses.