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What to do when your boss is a bully

It’s more common than you think.
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If you thought your days of bullying ended on the playground, you’re in for a rude awakening.

In fact, “one of the toughest dilemmas facing workers today is office bullying, especially when it’s coming from their boss,” says career and workplace advisor, Tracey C. Jones.

But that doesn’t mean you should simply grin and bear it for the sake of your job. There are plenty of ways to handle the situation without having to hand in a letter of resignation.

We spoke with Jones to find out how:

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Clarify the behavior

Before you start pointing fingers, it’s important that you ask yourself: Am I actually being bullied, or is my boss just being tough? “There’s a big difference,” says Jones. “A tough boss is going to give you constructive criticism, but a bullying boss is going to give you destructive criticism.”

If your boss scolds you when you turn in low quality work, he’s simply pushing you to perform your best, she explains.  But if he humiliates you in public, calls you demeaning names when you make a mistake, or attempts to intimidate you by threatening to get rid of you, that’s when you’ve officially entered bullying territory.

“Bullies are prone to public displays of anger,” explains the expert.

“They’ll attack you on a personal level rather than criticize your work.” Once that happens, it’s time to put your foot down and do something about it.

 

Confront the bully

Nobody wants to face the bully head on, says Jones, but it’s honestly the best thing you can do.

Plus, “sooner or later you’re going to have to be at the same table with the bully.” It looks much better if you can tell whoever is involved. “I already spoke with him, we discussed the issues, and here are my notes from our conversation.” It makes you look professional, and shows that you made the effort to resolve things, rather than simply sulking or complaining to fellow coworkers, she explains. “It just makes you look so much more credible.”

Her method for going about it strategically: Write down what you’re going to say ahead of time, and think of a way to make it clear that you’re trying to help them. “Use truth and love,” says Jones. “Say it in a way that encourages, not decimates them.” Try something along the lines of: “There’s no doubt that you know how to run this company and I understand that you have a lot on your plate, but at times you speak to me in a way that doesn’t help my productivity.” At the end of the day, you don’t want to attack him as a person; you just want to just resolve the issue.

 

Go higher up

A bully will respond to your confrontation in one of two ways, says Jones. “He’ll either be woefully ignorant, or willfully ignorant.” In the first scenario, he’s going to apologize, thank you for telling him, and then work on fixing his behavior. “But the willfully ignorant boss is going to be glad that he pushed your buttons and ostracized you,” says Jones. “He wants to devalue you and let you know you’re not the boss.”

If that’s the case, it’s time to go higher up on the management chain, says the expert. HR should be the first stop, and if that doesn’t resolve it, then comes the CEO.

Upper management will say one of two things: “Holy cow I can’t believe it — I’m going to take care of it, or what do you want me to do about it?”

If the response is the latter, “that’s when you should start polishing up that resume and looking for outside work.”