How to Handle a Nasty Boss

ByTORY JOHNSON via via logo

April 3, 2006 — -- Even though supermodel Naomi Campbell's arrest in New York last week for allegedly flinging her BlackBerry at her housekeeper's head is an extreme example of workplace anger, it serves as a reminder of the bully bosses that many people endure daily. You can put an end to the aggression if you're willing to take action for yourself. Consider these scenarios and suggested responses:

The Tosser

If your boss throws things around the office when he's angry and frustrated, you should get out of the way! In all seriousness, it's not every day that bosses throw things at their employees, so the accusations against Campbell shouldn't cause the rest of us to run for cover. If your boss can be violent on occasion, such as smashing things against a wall, walk away and refuse to engage in such tantrums.

If you're worried for your safety, report this to human resources. Be clear about when this occurred, any witnesses and other details that might be relevant. Employers take workplace violence very seriously, so your complaints are no laughing matter.

The Silent One

Another form of aggression is the passive kind. Your boss gives you the silent treatment, rarely saying hello in the hallway and never responding to your e-mails or questions.

In such a case, approach him directly and clearly, and avoid asking yes or no questions. Don't make accusations that would put him on the defensive.

Wrong approach: "You never respond to me. You always ignore me. What's up with that?" You won't get a resolution with this method because it enables him to blow you off by saying, "Nothing is up. Now go away."

A smart approach would be along these lines: "I'd like to schedule a time to exchange notes on several projects or issues. What would be the best time for you?"

You can also request feedback on the best method for communicating. "Since I value your feedback and direction, I'd like to know the best way for us to communicate. Would you prefer e-mail, phone or brief in-person meetings?"

The Idea Hogger

Another workplace frustration is the boss stealing your ideas. Sometimes this is inevitable. The boss will often take credit for the ideas of his team and you may just have to suck it up and realize that it's a part of paying your dues. If it's a pattern, however, and one that's holding you back from recognition and promotion, there are a couple of things you can do:

Approach him by saying, "I'm thrilled that you liked my suggestions enough to present them to senior management. Since I'd welcome the chance to see how these things are both presented and received, I hope you'd consider including me in such meetings or copying me on such e-mails."

You can also suggest something like this: "I'm hoping you'd consider allowing me to send my ideas directly to senior management. I'd always be sure to include you in that communication. I'd also like to go so far as praising you as my manager for nurturing my creativity and development." Hopefully he'll realize this is a win-win for both of you. He gets kudos as a great boss and you get the credit for the good ideas.

The Constant Caller

What about the big guy who cuts into your personal time by calling all night or throughout the weekend, leaving you with precious little time for a life outside the office?

Recognize that some of these calls are inevitable and should be expected. Many of us work in positions where the responsibilities and issues extend way beyond normal business hours.

If, however, it's unrelenting and shows a total disregard for your personal time, let your boss know that you need a break from it. Be clear that you don't mind some calls after hours, but that you'd respectfully request that you have pockets of time to focus on your personal needs. Let him know that you won't be available on certain nights or weekends, and that your cell phone will be off. Part of the onus is on you to manage expectations -- not just to ignore his calls.

The Humiliator

If the boss constantly belittles you and your ideas in front of co-workers, you must stand up for yourself to put an end to it.

Call him on this behavior. If you allow it to continue, you're in essence giving him permission to treat you this way. Take him aside and say, "While I value your feedback and direction, it's humiliating when you attack me in front of my peers. We're all professionals and I shouldn't be treated that way. If you have criticisms for me, I'd ask that you deliver them in private and in a professional tone."

To connect directly with Tory Johnson or for other information on career advancement, visit

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