Deflate Your Bullying Boss With Passive-Aggression
Bullying: it’s not just for schoolyards anymore. Bullying is simply the act of humiliating and causing harm, sometimes physical, to other people. Unfortunately, bullying behavior is highly durable because bullies often get what they want. In other words, bullying works for the bully. Passive-aggressive behavior may deflate your bully’s bubble.
(Photo Credit: kevin dooley/Flickr)
If your boss is a bully, understanding some basics about the psychology behind bullying will help you fight back in appropriate ways and protect yourself.
Schoolyard bullies and workplace bullies seem to pick their targets, or victims, for different reasons. While analyzing this, don’t ever blame a victim — really. While bullies do pick out their victims, this does not make it the victim’s fault.
Many experts believe that in childhood, bullies pick out victims with fewer friends or social skills. They want victims who are less able to defend themselves. In the workplace, however, the opposite is true. Skilled workers and independent workers are bullied by those who feel threatened by the capabilities of the target victim. And if your boss is a bully who is threatened by you, this may cause you serious problems.
Respond to Workplace Bullying Wisely
As much as you might like to tell your boss exactly what you think of him — don’t. Cool down and come up with a plan that won’t make you look bad. And you likely do need to do something, because quietly taking the abuse and just doing your job also allows the bullying to continue. If your boss’ bullying behavior bothers you and you want it to stop, you need to do something.
Recent research indicates that quiet retaliation may reduce your own psychological stress. This is where the passive-aggression comes into play. Experts at the Counseling Directiory explain that passive-aggression is non-verbal aggression that manifests in negative behavior. It usually happens when a person is angry with someone else (for example, your boss) but cannot tell them.
Of course, if you are able to confront your boss about his behavior in an appropriate manner, this may be your best option. Sometimes, however, directly confronting a bullying boss may make the situation worse. According to the recently published paper, little ways of fighting back and keeping your sanity include:
- Feigning ignorance when faced with hostile criticism. Instead of engaging with a boss by trying to calm him down explain yourself, remain calm, maybe shrug your shoulders and don’t carry the burden of his emotionally toxic antics.
- Doing work for him in a half-hearted manner. I doubt this means not doing work well, because if you turn in shoddy work, it reflects on you. However, you can do stellar work and not indicate that you enjoyed doing it for him.
- Flat out ignoring a toxic boss. This is not the quiet ignoring that many bullied folks attempt and end up getting bullied repeatedly. This seems to be more along the lines of not bothering to acknowledge him any time it is not absolutely necessary to do so.
For the record, the studies didn’t show how much bullying bosses noticed the quiet resistance. But the research did demonstrate that the workers were much happier when they did not just sit back and take the abuse. Therefore, quiet retaliation seems to be a valid response, especially if you are in a situation in which direct confrontation does not feel like a viable option.
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Beth Taylor has a background in theater arts, education and psychology. She started writing the Undercover Waitress blog in 2011 to help educate and empower non-union women in the labor force. She originally joined the PayScale blogging team in 2013. Since earning her master's degree in clinical psychology in 2015, she works full-time as a clinician performing psychological evaluations and offering therapy services. She continues to write about psychology and behavior at work.