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When your boss is a bully

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in Workplace Communication,Workplace Conflict

I once coached an administrative assistant whose boss, the CEO of a major corporation, often yelled at her. Once he forgot to go to his dentist (even though she had reminded him earlier that day), and he called her up screaming, “It’s your fault I missed that appointment! You didn’t remind me close enough to the time!”

If you find yourself in a similar situation, what should you do? In that moment, she could have said, “When you yell at me, it’s distracting and makes it more difficult to give you what you want. Moving forward, would you prefer to be reminded a second time an hour before your appointment? (Wait for response.) For clarity, when we go over your schedule in the morning, will you clearly tell me which appointments should come under this new protocol?”

Recent research suggests that supervisors target those who are least likely to defend themselves. The study found that those employees with lower self-esteem and poor co-worker support were more likely to bear the brunt of a manager’s aggressive behavior, including belittling and blaming.

This dysfunctional pattern can be shifted if you’re willing to take action. If one of your co-workers bears the brunt of a supervisor’s abuse, shift the dynamic. Offer your colleague support or advice, if that’s appropriate. You can also speak up on the person’s behalf. During a meeting, for example, if your supervisor is once again targeting your vulnerable colleague, support them with facts. “Just in case you aren’t aware, it was (name) who made sure all project goals were distributed to the team and then followed up with us to ensure we met deadlines.”

If you’re the victim, you must stand up for yourself. Being submissive is not the answer. As long as you tolerate this behavior, nothing will change. As in the earlier example, speak up with calmness and clearly ask for what you want.  Practice what you will say prior to increase your confidence and resolve. After a couple of well-documented attempts without any change, it may be time to discuss it with HR. Bullying has no place in society.

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