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Managing up: How to handle an abusive boss

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in Your Office Coach

Question: "I don’t know how to handle an abusive boss. I work for the president and vice president of a small company. The President and I can discuss anything, but the VP is confrontational and rude.  He verbally abuses me when no one is around and becomes especially angry when deadlines are tight. I’ve been in abusive relationships in my personal life, so I don’t intend to condone this behavior.  However, I’m not sure exactly what to do." — Not a Doormat
Maire's Answer:  When executives choose to act like children, employees need to be the adults. This means refusing to be mistreated, while avoiding career-ending confrontations. Here’s how to handle it:

•    The simplest strategy is to deprive your volatile VP of the reaction he seeks. Abusers are rewarded by fearful or angry responses. If you consistently remain calm and businesslike during these tirades, he may eventually quiet down.

•    A more daring approach is to politely call time out whenever he launches an attack. However, you must warn him about this plan. During a peaceful moment, explain that you can’t concentrate when he’s upset, so in the future, you are going to take a short break if the conversation becomes heated.

•    Your third choice is to rat him out. Tell the president about the VP’s behavior and ask for his assistance. As the boss, he’s ultimately responsible for this guy’s job performance.

For additional Office Coach advice on dealing with explosive managers, see How to Handle a Hothead Boss. If all else fails, start planning your departure. As you have already learned in your personal life, continuing to tolerate abuse is not an acceptable choice.

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