Few things are as disruptive to your professional contentment as a difficult boss. In fact, a bad boss or supervisor is the number one reason people quit their jobs. When the boss is a bully, you may feel depressed, drained, disrespected, and angry — maybe even on a daily basis. It can be confusing to try to sort out your options and determine what you should do. The good news is, you won’t feel this way forever. There are some things you can do that should help you cope with your bullying boss, or maybe even make the situation better.
First, start by asking yourself this question:
Are you the target of the bullying, or is the boss like this with everyone?
When the boss is coming after you specifically, it can be a real nightmare. You worry about your job security first and foremost, and it can be incredibly difficult to know what to do. The temptation is to lie low and keep your head down, in order to avoid the boss’s wrath — but eventually, the issues between you must be confronted. Try to have another person, (one whom you trust and respect), with you whenever you meet with your boss, if at all possible. This should tame the situation slightly. Consider talking with your boss about the problems you’re having and let him know how you plan to adjust going forward, how you’re going to shift. Do your part to make this better. If you know you’ve done everything you can, you’ll be able to face whatever comes next.
Now, assuming your boss is not targeting you, but is just of the general jerk persuasion, here are some things to keep in mind that might help you cope.
1. Perhaps it’s coming from insecurity.
Remember when you were a kid and you finally realized that the meanest kid on the playground was actually totally insecure and self-loathing? What a revelation! Well, the same is true with adults. If your boss is throwing power around, using his position of authority to shame or humiliate, or inappropriately flying off the handle and blaming others exclusively when things go wrong — chances are, he is deeply, profoundly insecure. Knowing that helps a little, right?
The Peter Principle states that employees rise through the ranks until they reach a level at which they are incompetent. Because of the hierarchical nature of our workplaces, promotions happen when ambition aligns with ability. This remains true until an individual obtains a position that they are unequipped to handle. This is all to say, your boss may be in over his head. It’s a very good possibility. It’s also likely that he will eventually leave his position, for one reason or another. Maybe you just need to wait this out.
3. Someone will talk.
Be very careful discussing your boss with your co-workers. Maybe a trusted friend or two can be privy to how you’re thinking and feeling, although I don’t recommend even that. If you end up discussing your opinions with a group of people, there is bound to be at least one individual who will use that information to their advantage and tell your boss about it. So, don’t discuss this with folks from work. And, for goodness sakes, never post a thing about it on social media. Unless you’re competing in a who-can-get-fired-first-contest that you’re desperately hoping to win, this is a very bad idea.
4. Autonomy is key.
The level of autonomy you’re able to achieve during this time could make or break your ability to cope with your bullying boss. Whenever possible, do your own thing. If you don’t have to talk to your boss — don’t. And, when you do need to meet, come with answers and solutions, not questions. Be strong, competent, and brief. Limiting your contact with your tough boss is important, and could really save your sanity.
5. Only in extreme cases, or if the situation is just right, talk to your boss’s boss.
Do not do this lightly. Something like this is a big deal and could potentially mean the end of your time with your company. You should only use this tactic as an absolute last resort.
The objective of the conversation you have with your boss’s boss is not to get your boss into trouble. Instead, if you have a good relationship with this person, they may be able to help by mandating and sanctioning a conversation or meeting between you and your boss. After you politely, but frankly, express your concerns and your strong desire to repair things and move forward, your boss’s boss might call for a meeting between the two of you. This higher-up’s involvement could elicit a different tempo or energy from your boss — since they are now under orders to meet with you.
No matter what happens, something is sure to come from taking this step. If you just can’t take it anymore, and want things to either get better or worse (potentially propelling you out the door), than this is the way to go. Tread very carefully, though. And only consider this option if you have an excellent relationship with your boss’s boss. Otherwise, it will certain to backfire.
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This post was updated from an earlier version previously published on PayScale.