Defuse a domineering boss

A manager wrote to ask us how to deal with an aggressive boss who interrupts constantly, uses foul language and loves to give quizzes that put people on the defensive.

If you let such a boss intimidate you, the problem will only worsen. Politely stand up to such behavior:

Ignore bluster. When a boss’s behavior upsets you, let it slide. Tell yourself it’s merely a sign of insecurity.

If a boss tests you to see if you can come up with the answer he’s looking for, don’t play that game. Evade good-naturedly by saying “Great question” or “Just give me an ‘F’ for failing the quiz but an ‘A’ for what I’m working on now.”

Resist the bait. Some bosses act macho to make you buckle. Don’t indulge them. Respond to coarse language by restating their comments in neutral terms. Use nonjudgmental, noninflammatory language (“It seems to me …”).

If they interrupt, wait them out and continue speaking when they finish. If you get interrupted again, either express yourself in writing or—as a last resort—interrupt right back to signal you have something important to say.

Appeal to machismo. Most domineering bosses won’t necessarily change just because you say, “I don’t appreciate that kind of language,” or, “Please let me finish.” While there’s nothing wrong with being direct, don’t expect instant compliance.

A better approach is to take their side. To stem interruptions, say, “You’ll thank me for this.”