It’s tough dealing with someone that abuses you. Handling abuse is made more difficult when the person, such as a boss or supervisor, has authoritative power over you. Your boss can trick you into procrastination and anger where your wellbeing is undermined from fear of repercussions in addressing the issue.
If verbal and other mental abuse get serious, and possibly approach physical abuse, the issue can become a legal concern. I’ve heard people are trying to pass legislation in an American state that disallows workplace abuse. Nearly all laws, however, do not consider verbal conflict so how you handle bullies for your happiness and wellbeing is in your power.
Most people who lack the communication skills to deal with a bad boss either:
• Endure the bullying. They endure the bullying boss and intimidation. These people may have little self-respect or lack assertion skills. They may think their job is put at risk if they address their boss about the problem.
• Bully the bully. These people face their boss by reciprocating their boss’ aggression. It is quite common for the problem to intensify as the two individuals yell at one another in intensifying conflict.
First Common Reaction: Endure the Bullying
The first reaction to a bullying boss is a passive response. In this response you forgo your needs while your boss tramples you. The last thing to do when being abused by anyone is accept the abuse.
You must address the issue in the correct manner otherwise your confidence, happiness – and in this situation – your work will suffer. Recipients of aggressive behavior who incorrectly handle aggression are known to develop health problems such as strokes, heart attacks, suicide, migraines, escalated stress levels, insomnia, and terrifying nightmares. One anonymous person often dreamed her boss pointing a gun at employees so they would complete their work.
The most common reason for accepting intimidation is the fear of repercussions if you stick up for yourself. You may avoid defending yourself in a work situation – especially with someone that has authoritative power – from fear of getting fired. This fear detects a real threat because most people that stick up for themselves do so aggressively and cause negative results (which you’ll see more about below).
Passive people suppress their own needs and get dominated by others. They live in frustration as their anger is bottled inside. They lack the communication skills to address the problem and hope the abusive person stops bullying out of goodwill. The result is a win for the bully and a loss for the passive person.
Second Common Reaction: Bully the Bully
The second common reaction to facing a bully is aggression. People that aggressively respond, defend themselves and usually have more confidence than passive individuals. They often think that to get what they want, they must retaliate. It becomes fire against fire. When an aggressive employee faces an aggressive boss, a fight starts as two individuals take to a verbal boxing ring – mentally beating each other’s minds.
People may become aggressive for several reasons:
• They were abused by their parents at an early age or placed under other emotional trauma.
• They are mentally ill. I’m not jokingly referring to a mental illness, but a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or a personality disorder.
• They think the only way to stop someone else’s abusive behaviour is to reciprocate the abuse.
• The aggression is a release of anger often caused from responding passively like the first situation. This type of behaviour is otherwise known as “passive-aggressive behaviour” where the person is frequently passive, but randomly explodes to release their frustration. After the occasional and often unexpected outburst, the person returns to his or her passive behaviour.
• The person is in an emotionally high-pressure environment. This type of aggressive behaviour is common in work environments where individuals are placed under high loads of stress.
• The aggressive individual may try to prove his superiority, toughness, control, discipline, or results-focus to others through aggressive behaviour.
While aggression in the workplace may create sufficient productivity, it is strongly correlated to a high turnover rate (said to be an average of 1.5 years) and other commitment problems. Employees fake sick days, become miserable, sabotage their own work, and lose passion for their work. Aggressive managers can create unproductive employees as they “hide” by staying under the radar, seeking to comply, while do nothing that stands out that could draw attention. The aggressive communication exchanged between the employee and manager is a loss outcome for both.
A Third Rare Action: Assertive Communication with the Boss
The first common reaction was a passive response. The second common reaction was an aggressive response. There is a median response between these two common reactions known as “assertiveness”, which produces a win-win response. You need assertiveness to face an abusive boss.
Where passive communication fails to respect yourself and aggressive communication fails to respect the other person, assertive communication respects both individuals. There are several assertive communication techniques you can use to stop the bullying, stop your fear, and build your self-confidence to create a nice working relationship with your boss. This is the power of assertive skills.
A Step-by-Step Approach with Techniques to Cure a Bad Boss
In this section I’ll share a series of techniques in a scenario to help you face an aggressive boss. Learn from the scenario and use as many techniques as you can in everyday life because they are not limited to managing and dealing with an aggressive boss.
Before you approach your boss about the problem, ask yourself: “What can I change in my behaviour to solve the aggression?” Own your behaviour. Avoid blaming your boss for what you can control. Be responsible to stop yourself from blaming problems on your boss. Sometimes this step where you analyse yourself may solve the problem and eliminate aggression because you were the problem.
“… analysing yourself may solve the problem and eliminate aggression because you were the problem.”
Additionally, before you approach your boss, think what to say and how you can solve the problem. Prepare to make the conversation productive. Though you may think of good solutions when preparing for the conversation, remain flexible and willing to adjust your behaviour to satisfy your boss. A willingness to compromise is assertive.
Once you approach your boss, be calm and responsive. Calmness is not enough because it can show ignorance and increase aggression from a lack of responsiveness. Behaving unresponsive hurts empathy and makes it difficult to diffuse an aggressive person’s emotions. You don’t want to ignore an angry boss!
When you are calm yet responsive, you will remove your aggressive communication. When you remove your aggression, you will reduce your boss’ aggressive communication because the two of you are no longer in a destructive cycle of anger. Fire needs some sort of fuel to stay alight. By keeping calm yet remaining responsive, you remove the psychological fuel needed to keep your boss’ aggressive fire burning.
Have the right mindset of resolving the problem at hand. When faced with a difficult person, it is easy to think you are right. But guess what? Your boss also thinks he/she is right! This is why conflict feels like swimming with a shark. You may need to compromise yourself to progress forward with the problem. Drop your pride. Be the first one to step towards problem resolution.
Now that you understand these concepts and techniques, it’s time to approach your boss. Find the best time to talk with your boss. Do not try and solve this problem in an intense emotional situation. You may need to wait till the end of the day, or even the end of the week, until you believe the boss is approachable.
As you address your boss, the best thing you can do is ask for his opinion and point of view on the matter. If he is not aware of his aggression, bring up a specific situation where he became aggressive. Telling a person who is not aware of, or unwilling to acknowledge their aggressive behaviour, a specific time where he or she became aggressive is an excellent technique to change their behaviour.
When you ask for a person’s point of view first, instead of blurting what you think and feel about the situation, you build your persuasive ability from a newfound perception. You may see a new side to the story when you practice good listening skills. Asking for your boss’ point of view will help you understand, and even help your boss understand why he is aggressive. Your boss will feel understood when you actively listen, which can lead to many great outcomes.
“A mutual solution is always followed through by both parties more consistently than a solution forced upon one person.”
After your boss has made suggestions, you can begin to give your ideas about the problem. Keep calm and stay focused on resolving the problem while avoiding personal attacks. Ask for your boss’ feedback on your ideas. Make it a joint solution so each of you follow through with the final plan. A mutual solution is always followed through by both parties more consistently than a solution forced on one person.
As you talk, take note of the positive points your boss shows in his behaviour and compliment him on these. Keep the conversation positive as problem solving can seem negative – even though it is good for people.
If none of these techniques work – provided you have talked with others about the problem and tried your best to stop your boss from behaving aggressively – ask yourself: “What’s more valuable to me: my happiness or my work?” Without knowing your exact situation, your happiness is more valuable. If your boss continues to treat you poorly, have the courage to respect yourself, stand up for your wellbeing, and solve the problem.
Work is a task many people hate for 40 years of their life. It doesn’t have to be that way. You no longer have to be in an unproductive, unhappy working relationship when you follow good advice. You can develop a productive, and possibly joyful, working relationship for your own good and your organisation’s good. Value yourself and do something about your aggressive boss the next time you go to work. Your livelihood depends on it.
By Kay Leslie