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How To Handle A Boss Who Is A Bully

Posted: June 23, 2014

There is no easy way to handle a boss who is a bully, but early intervention may help, rather than staying quiet and waiting for things to turn peachy.

It was 8:15am. I had an international call scheduled at 8:30 am with the Project Architect in Palo Alto, CA. We had both attended the requirements meeting a week ago, where pilot customers dictated their requirements and we untangled technical difficulties and resolved project issues. I was the Indian Project Lead responsible for the development team sitting across the aisle.

8:20 am. I logged in the Goto Meeting site and kept the window open for the call. My notes for the call and print outs of documents with markups and comments were neatly stacked in front of me. It was an hour long call but one that would keep us working through the whole week so we had to ensure that the call was efficient and effective.

8:25 am. My manager walks in. We both nod and sip our coffee.

8:30am sharp the phone rings and my manager rushes to grab the phone, speaks privately and exchanges morning niceties. I’m left gaping. He takes my printouts and slides my notes and starts orchestrating the call. Halfway he switches the speaker phone and lets everybody know about my presence.

During the next year this was a regular occurrence. During an important discussion, my statements would be interrupted mid-sentence. My communications would never land on the intended inboxes because he was the single point connector who could choose to delete or forward mails. Even though I was technically proficient my decisions were shoved aside or often quoted as his suggestions.

Meanwhile I grew frustrated, agitated and depressed. At times I thought of quitting a job that I was extremely passionate about.

Is your boss a bully? How do you know?

It turns out mine was. Working for a bully not only deteriorates your performance but also wreaks havoc on your professional life. Sometimes the stress can extend itself into your personal space as well. How do you identify these nefarious, covert yet rampant figures?

  • Does he/she intimidate you regularly?
  • Is threatening to fire you a standard speech?
  • Do they criticize/mock or stage a public show down?
  • Is the ‘Silent Treatment’ or ‘Ice out’ part of the work package?
  • Do they harass you? Sexually/emotionally/professionally?

If you answered affirmatively for any of the above, you could very well be working for a bully boss in a tumultuous atmosphere that sucks the camaraderie and zeal from your workplace. Continuing to work under such circumstances could demotivate you and lead to extreme levels of anxiety. But this is not a coffee corner conversation.

How do you handle a boss who is a bully?

  • Speak up: If your boss is getting in the way of your work, try to schedule a one on one meeting early on to discuss grievances before things get ugly. Instead of calling names, ensure that you land the punch softly so they get the message and quickly move on.
  • Say No: The next time your boss expects you to be a slave to the workplace, have the courage to say No. Bring up a personal or professional commitment or simply say the timing does not work out. Having the courage to say no shows that you are not an easy target or a pushover. It might tame the bulling boss and even earn you respect.
  • Keep Track: If the boss is stupid enough to send you threatening emails and scary memos, start documenting them.  Keep track of everything relating to the incident(s) and try to stick to the facts. If the bullying persists for a long duration and is making things worse, having clearly documented proof stands a better chance of getting you out than simply narrating the exchanges.
  • More the merrier: Are you the only one in the face of the snarling dog or are your colleagues in on the deal as well? Keep an eye out to see if you are being singled out and if it’s because of your responses or if it is a competence problem. Before blaming the boss, make sure you are not doing anything to rattle their nerves.
  • You are my role model: If your boss appreciates your performance, make sure you thank them for their kindness and encouragement. By rewarding politeness with sincere gratitude you can ensure that it repeats itself.
  • Don’t bully: Is your boss bullying you to reflect your attitude to your team? Make sure to give credit wherever it is due. Use positive reinforcement and showcase stellar performances.
  • Contact HR: If the bullying reaches intolerable limits, reach out to Human Resources. Keep in mind that this could be tedious and often not lead to tangible results.

Bullying is common from the playground to the workplace. It starts early and leads to exploitation. Confronting a bullying boss is not always successful but early intervention might work in your favor. Don’t just put up without a fight. In the end only you can decide if it’s truly worth it.

Pic credit: dgoomany (Used under a CC license)

Meera R Corera (@meeraramanathan) is a freelance writer and blogger focusing on all things India —

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