Should I just walk away when the boss makes a ‘cutting’ remark?

Question: After my boss said to me, “If anyone calls here and wants something done, give the call to Mary or me because we are the only ones who do anything around here,” I just turned and walked away trying to ignore what he said. What would have been the best way to handle this? —Anonymous


My gut would have told me to say “Well, I guess I can go home now since you can answer the phone!”

I would have said, “I beg to differ because I KNOW I am a team player, and I work just as hard as the both of you AND support you as well.” Then I would have turned around and walked away.

Never let someone belittle you because they will continue to do it to you unless you speak up for yourself and let them know it is unacceptable.

Your boss sounds like a piece of work. Good luck!

Depends on how well you know your boss and if he was implying that you “don’t do anything around here” or if he meant his other colleagues.

When my boss is frustrated, she will speak before thinking and say things like that (not directed towards me). I will usually ignore it. If I couldn’t tell if she was making a serious request, I’d wait another day or two and then ask “I just want to clarify: Do you still want me to direct every call to you or Mary?”

If he is making a negative comment about YOUR performance, I wouldn’t ignore it, I would make sure there was a discussion about performance including follow-up steps.

Does this happen frequently or is it a one-time situation? You could quietly go to your boss and ask if there is a problem with your work performance because you sense some dissatisfaction based on a recent comment. If this happens often, is your boss just angry and you are the target – maybe the boss thinks you can take his/her outburst and let it go. However, this can become a subtle form of emotional and verbal abuse and should never be tolerated by anyone in the work place, unless you are willing to accept that treatment to keep your job. Years ago, Dear Abby told a reader to ask this question about a close relationship that was harmful, “Are you better off with him {her} that without him {her}?” We have to decide if treatment in the work relationship is violating our personal values and principles and where we draw the line.

First of all, do not wish you could have handled it differently – most of us, wouldn’t expect this type of immature remark. Next, don’t assume he was referring to you, this needs to be clarified with your boss by asking him if he included you as well, and be specific about the date and what was said. Be prepared – If your boss feels you are not carrying your weight, it’s important to be ready for the same type of behavior should he decide to open up. Some bosses forget that it is in their, the employee’s and the company’s best interest to conduct feedback sessions. One way an employee can improve when no one tells them that something is not right in the first place is to get the boss to give them feedback, even if its for 15 minutes a quarter. If the remark did include you, schedule some time so that the issues can be discussed. Best to you.

One thing you must remember, the boss is the boss. Although they should not say things they don’t mean, sometimes they do. You should say to yourself, who will benefit if I respond. Will it make you feel good, will it make your boss feel bad. What kind of relationship will you have with your boss after that. If you feel you are being verbally attacked all the time, keep notes. Document dates, times and what was said. When you feel you have enough information, you should submit it to your HR Department. That will come in handy if you are let go for any reason. Documentation is very important. Most of the time boss are frustrated, tired etc. Get to know your boss. There are key things they like to hear and ways they like to do things. Give them time, keep smiling and it will turn around. It’s just your job. Its only eight hours. Enjoy the rest of your time away from work. Stop focusing on the negative an focus on the positive.

The more crap you put up with the more crap your going to get. That being said, I think it would be a good idea that when your boss makes these types of remarks to speak with him face to face about it. Let your boss know that based on his remarks you were wondering if he had specific issues with your work. Be polite, professional, respectful and direct. I think with some people, letting their crap roll off your back over and over only leaves you feeling crapped on and them feeling like they can crap on you.

I’ve been reading the responses with interest. You did not mention if anyone else witnessed this scene. That can make a huge difference. I would never let anyone “diss” me in front of others. No matter who’s right or wrong, your audience’s respect for you will plummet. They will see you as someone who can’t stand up for herself (regardless of the rights and wrongs of the situation), and that is FATAL!. Of course, as a staff person, you can’t lash out and it’s undignified to protest, contradict or insult your boss. However, you can say: “Are you including me? Because I think I respond to calls pretty well.” And if s/he does indicate that the remark included you, then say: “I’m sorry you feel that way. I think we should discuss this.” Then make sure that you do, at some point that is convenient for both you and your boss (if not right then). If you get ignored or if your boss can’t back up the statement, that’s the time to tell HR that you perceive a problem. Don’t tattletale; this will only enrage your boss and put the relationship beyond the point of no return. No matter how hurt or angry, your professionalism demands that you take the position: “I didn’t know that you didn’t trust me or that I was not backing you up properly. Please tell me the particulars and what I can do to support this company’s Customer Service effort. I really need some guidance from you.” Sounds like humble pie? Well, guess who’s in charge and who’s making the big bucks? That’s life, kiddo. You always want to figure out a solution before you bring up a problem to your boss, or to HR, so be prepared to acknowledge that the boss is not getting the support s/he needs. Obviously, the frustration your boss is experiencing has to come from SOMEWHERE, so make it your mission to figure it out – if the lack is not in you, where is it coming from? Be proactive. Good luck.

We have the same issue in our office. I call him the bully partner. He’s the boss of everyone around here. He wants things done and he wants them now! He is very outspoken and blunt to everybody. I’ve been here 15 years and I think he’s getting worse.

I would have asked to talk privately, and then said something to the effect of, “I really resent what you said. If I am not doing something you expect of me, please let me know. Either you just said that out of anger and did not mean it, or I failed to do something that I am not aware of.” But keep an open mind that perhaps you are not meeting his expectations. If that is the case, talking one-on-one is the perfect opportunity for you and he to get on the same page regarding what those expectations are.

My boss gets very nasty every time he has to go on a trip with his wife. I can always count on him to make one or more vicious, cutting remarks just before or just after one of these little jaunts. I just try to ignore him. But if I rise to the bait, HE WINS. Don’t let him.

Take Marks comment to heart. Go to your superior and ask to speak to him privately. Be a professional about it, don’t go into the office to lay blame but to find resolution to the problem. With many of the other comments be ready to look for another job.

Grab your purse and head out the door. Obviously you are not appreciated there and you can do better. Never let a boss talk to you in that type of manner.

One very simple thing you can do to someone like that is just say “Wow, that was a really mean thing to say”. Then walk away. A lot of times, bosses like that are very concerned with what people think of them, and telling someone they are mean gives them a jolt. I have done this and it really helps if you give them a pout like you are about to cry.

In a perfect world everyone’s boss would be nice all of the time. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world and from time to time our bosses become frustrated with their subordinates, especially when they feel as though they are not performing as they should. Bosses, like everyone, will vent and we need to remember that when our boss is mad it is rarely at us – we just happen to get caught in the crossfire because we are the first person they see after someone makes them angry. You can’t take everything to heart, you can’t take everything literally and you can’t change jobs every time someone says something that you think is unnecessary. What you can do is find a way to deal with it and how you choose to do that is up to you… whether it’s tuning the person out while they are ranting and tuning back in when the conversation becomes relevant to your job, using humor to turn the conversation back to a more pleasant tone, turning and walking away trying to ignore what he said, confronting them and telling them it makes you uncomfortable, etc.

I agree with MKennedy’s comment – if it happens again, try to respond with humor – say something like “what am I, chopped liver?” It may wake your boss up to the fact that what he said was thoughtless.

Not knowing the background for this comment, it is difficult to advise. In some firms only the boss makes most decisions. When assistants try to “help” without consulting the boss first it can lead to serious, if not damaging errors.

I’m curious about “Mary”. Is she on your pay level? Does she do what you do or does she do what the boss does? Are you sure you aren’t over reacting to this entire situation? If you re-think this issue and discover that you were the target in this remark then you owe it to yourself and your boss to get clarification. Mark was on the money with his suggestion that you have a private conversation.
Walking out the door is not the answer, but if this situation is targeting you, you might want to get out before they ask you to leave.

Wow . . . I also have fell victim to a boss’ inappropriate display of frustration. Although this is a very immature way of communication, something must be driving it. It is imperative to call them on it. You must first allow yourself to cool down so you can communicate professionally and unemotionally then you must schedule some time to discuss this behavior and find out what is driving it. If the behavior is based on something that you have done or failed to do, try to get their opinion on what you could have done differently or what it is that they expect of you. Do not get defensive but allow yourself to be open to another way of doing things to support your boss. After all, he is your customer. I do feel that it is also appropriate for you to let your boss know how you felt about the way he communicated his frustration and that in the future if you are not doing something that he wants done or you are not doing it the way he wants it that it is best to let you know right away before s/he has to resort to this type of outburst. After all, you cannot change your behavior if your boss is not willing to let you know what their expectations are. You may be a very efficient assistant . . . but you’re not a mind reader!

He’s just DARING you to stick up for yourself so he can accuse you of insubordination or having a “poor attitude” or “whatever.” It’s a power trip for him. He’s a bully. People like this should not be put in charge of others but they ARE and all too frequently, too. Either ignore the son of a you-know-what or start looking at the “help wanted” ads.

Always be polite and professional, but that doesn’t mean you have to take abusive behavior. Address situations in a timely fashion. I would have said, “Sorry you feel that way; perhaps we should schedule a time later this week when we can sit and discuss why you feel I’m not doing any work. In the meantime, is there something I can do for you to alleviate your work load?” It’s always best to nip it in the bud. However because the incident is in the past doesn’t mean you cannot schedule a time to meet with him and say that you are concerned of the comment you made on (date) and wanted to check if it was stress speaking or if he truly feels that way. Then go from there to see what he expects from you. Some bosses handle stress poorly, but once they find out you’re on their side it can change a relationship into something rewarding. Even if you can control your attitude to focus on the positive, it doesn’t mean you should live with abusive behavior on a regular basis. There are bosses out there who are just not worth the effort. You need to decide what is important to you and take appropriate action.

I just wanted to let Joyce know that her suggestion was a really good one. I think it was the best response to this situation. Respectful, proactive, smart.

I walked away from a job that I absolutely loved because my boss often said uncalled for cutting remarks about me in front of my peers. I wouldn’t recommend it though and have often thought I should have handled it better.
In hindsight I allowed this woman to ruin my career at this company but I could no longer stomach her foul behavior.
So, I wouldn’t recommend it to others but for me I didn’t see any way out other than quit on the spot.

You handled the situation perfectly at that time. I would start looking around for another position. No sense in working for someone who does not appreciate or recognize the contributions you make.

I totally agree with the comments made by M. Kennedy. I would have said something like that and walked away. Many times bosses make cruel comments in front of everyone within earshot, totally oblivious to the respect and feelings of the people involved. It is totally unacceptable in my book. Recently, I heard a boss ridicule and badger one of his engineers right at his cubby, not caring what was overheard or discussed. How rude! Now both of them have lost my respect. Let’s remember we are professionals and if we have to be the one to set the example and keep things cool so be it.

well… really good post!