How to Deal with the Bully Boss

Bullying by bosses in the workplace exists. Today, we’ll discuss how to know if your boss is bullying you or a co-worker in a team or group setting and what you can do about it.

What does Bullying look like?

If you were to ask someone if they know what bullying looks like, you might get a wide number of examples. However, bullying can be difficult to define.

Here are some situations where your boss’s actions may in fact be bullying. Your boss:

  • Ignores your suggestions or ideas.
  • Ridicules or makes you a butt of their jokes.
  • Takes enjoyment in embarrassing you in front other peers or co-workers.
  • Puts you on a more aggressive timetable or performance standard than others doing similar work. (Note: there will be occasions when this is acceptable, especially in a performance improvement situation.)

 Open Bullying Example

When bullying is done in the open especially in a group setting, it is often easy to identify by all the team members. It becomes very obvious that someone is being excluded.

For example, if your ideas or suggestions are being ignored and other members of the team are receiving recognition for their ideas you may feel hurt. Before you jump to the conclusion that you are being bullied, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1.  Are there a number of ideas being suggested and only yours is being excluded or did your boss narrow all the choices down to one? If your boss is making an executive decision on what option to go with, that is not bullying.
  2. If one idea is being debated or flushed out, are your suggestions being acknowledged or incorporated? While it is not a requirement that your suggestions be incorporated, your boss should be acknowledging your suggestions. If your boss fails to recognize the team and your contributions consistently, you may have a boss who has poor management skills vs. being a bully.
  3. During the conversation, is your boss making comments that would imply your suggestions are not welcome? How are the other team members reacting to those comments? Do you see other people cringe when s/he says something to you? Are the comments isolated to you or does your boss make the same comments to other team members?
  4. Does anyone independently approach you privately after the meeting to comment on the boss’s behavior toward you? If a team member is embarrassed by the boss’s behavior, s/he wants a way to disengage himself with that bad behavior.

 What can you do about a Bully Boss?

I’ll be upfront. What we are going to talk about is the toughest part. Confronting or talking to a bully boss is not easy to do. Here are some tips that will help you figure out the best approach. Each situation is unique; some of the tips may not be appropriate. If you feel at a loss of what to do, seek out a professional to help you develop a game plan.

Document all conversations and behaviors. When you are ready to approach your boss, Human Resources or management, you will need to have your facts in hand.

  1. Bring up the behavior or situation early before your emotions take over or you get hurt too badly. Approach your boss directly with facts about how the situation affected your ability to do your best work for him or her. Ask them if you could do something different to get a better response from them. Avoid personal attacks.
  2. Do NOT discuss the situation when you are emotional unless you have no choice. Even if management has seen something or approaches you when you are in a vulnerable or emotional state, ask if the meeting can be postponed so that you can collect yourself. You do not have tell them this is the reason, simply tell them your notes are at home and you want to be ready and would like to discuss it the next day.
  3. Determine if your co-workers will verify your facts or share their private conversations with management. Do not be surprised if they decide decline to help you – they may feel vulnerable too.
  4. If the boss is targeting more than one person you may find approaching management or Human Resources together works better.
  5. If Human Resources or management determines that your boss is not being a bully but has some management style deficiencies, be open to helping your boss improve their style.
  6. If you are unable to tolerate your boss’s behavior and the organization doesn’t address the situation to your satisfaction, it’s time to evaluate if you are in the right organization.

For more resources, here are a few other articles for reference:

  1. WHAM 1180 Radio Clips: Office bullying, gossiping and social boundaries explored
  2. Office bully forces you to leave your organization
  3. Cyber Bullying is the new Workplace Harassment
About Lynn Dessert (425 Posts)

Lynn Dessert is an ICF trained certified NLP Coach specializing in Executive, Career and Life coaching based in Rochester, N.Y. She works with individuals and organizations to maximize personal effectiveness skills—a cornerstone to career advancement. Lynn is the author of What To Do After Being Fired and The Secerts to Successful Job On-Boarding. Start your discovery process by contacting her at 585.249.5149 today.


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