Is your boss a bully? Here’s how to deal
By Alina Dizik
The wrath of a bullying boss is something many workers will face during their career. In a 2010 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, an organization devoted to raising awareness about bullying in the workplace, 35 percent of workers say they’ve experience bullying firsthand and an additional 15 percent have witnessed it. Most of the time it’s same-gender harassment.
“A manager who is overly watchful, aggressive and unreasonable in his or her demands can be a workplace bully,” explains Stacy Harris, director of human resources at Bersin & Associates, a research and advisory services firm.
Is your boss the bullying kind? Here how to deal:
Acknowledge the problem
Making excuses for your boss or blaming yourself for the problem can prevent you from taking steps to solve the problem. Acknowledging that there’s a problem and that it’s not your fault are important first steps. Understanding that you did not invite the problem is crucial, says Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute.
Don’t let go of your self-esteem
“People who bully feel weak and vulnerable. Making other people feel small makes them feel bigger,” says workplace consultant Esther Derby, president of Esther Derby Associates in Minneapolis. With constant pressure from your boss, it can be easy to forget how difficult bullying can be on your psyche. Spend time with friends and family, volunteering or participating in projects at work away from your boss and department. Seeing your value outside of your bullying boss will give you more strength to address the problem.
Have a measured response
Before speaking up, it’s important to build your case. Take notes to catalog the specific incidents and find out if others have complained about this person. Get a well-rounded picture. Additionally, be sure to manage your own aggression or hostility. While it can be easy to act unprofessionally toward a bullying boss, having a measured response will help you build a stronger case. “Meeting aggression with aggression can cause the situation to spiral out of control. You don’t want to turn into a jerk to tame a jerk,” Derby explains. “Accept that you can’t change the person and change your response.”
Present your problems to the right person
Knowing whom to turn to in the case of a bullying boss can be tricky. Unless your relationship with your boss is completely strained, it’s better to build your case and first let your boss know that you are unhappy with the way you’re being treated. Remember to document the response in the form of an e-mail or your own notes.
If the conversation did not have the results you hoped for, it may be time to turn to someone higher up at the company. Don’t start with your boss’s superior, who has likely seen another side of your boss, Derby says. “Many bullies behave very differently when they aren’t in a position of power, so their manager may see a very different sort of behavior from that person,” she says. A human resources representative can be another wrong turn and may simply tiptoe around the problem. “HR’s job is to protect the company’s interests, not the individual employee’s interests,” Derby says. “The higher in the management chain the abuser is, the less likely that HR will take action.”
Instead, opt for the highest-ranking official who would be able to hear you out in a respectful manner. It can be difficult to find the right person, but starting with a vice president or senior manager who can have an impact on personnel issues may be your best bet.
Consider switching gears
If there’s no way to work out a solution, it may be up to you to leave the company, which is common for those dealing with bullying bosses. “People who have options usually leave rather than put up with a bully boss,” Derby says. “Often the people who stay are the ones who are too beaten down to see other options for themselves.”
Alina Dizik researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder.com. Follow @CareerBuilder on Twitter.
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