Standing Up To The Bully Boss

Standing Up To The Bully Boss

A look at one of the most odious creatures in the corporate jungle - the bully boss - and how you can disarm him or her.

Nature is red in tooth and claw. Animals do well if they are aggressive. It's animal instinct, especially in higher mammals.

For example, the strongest bull seal gets the largest harem and the dominating Silverback Gorilla gets the best females in the group. In return, they offer protection and leadership.

In the corporate jungle, we have all crossed paths with the male and female human versions of the aggressive Silverback. And unfortunately, for those of us who have worked for this type of boss, there are none of the positives offered in the animal world.

These people discovered, probably while they were at school, that they could maximise their share of what they wanted by being aggressive.

They are easily recognised by recruiting staff that are, alas, unlikely to block them. If tackled about their behaviour on the job, the bully manager will quickly duck behind corporate shibboleth such as "I get paid for results and not for being nice" or "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen".

Aggressive managers are usually very high on control so their management style is "my way or the door way".

So how do you deal with these sorts? Try some of the following. They don't work all the time or with all the bullies but they do work.

Push back

Respond assertively as soon as someone bullies you. Most bullies will start to push you gently and then gradually increase pressure. Bullies most often respond best to being bullied so being assertive is the best approach. They might not like you, but they will respect you and they will stop the bullying.

Use "I feel" statements

Use a phrase such as: "When you shout at me I feel annoyed and want to be aggressive but as you are my manager that would be inappropriate. You will find that I work better when I am spoken to reasonably".

Using "I feel" statements makes it non-negotiable because that is the way you feel.

Disarm with courtesy

If the above suggestion is too dangerous in terms of your career, then you can just say politely: "I would be grateful if you did not shout."

Put the problem back on your boss.
For example, if you are given an epithet such as "you're stupid" or "you're hopeless" you could respond with: "That's an interesting comment. I wonder why you felt obliged to make it." This puts the problem back on your boss. Or you can use the agreement technique "You could be right. However, my track record says I am good at x,y,z". The fact that you have a track record attests to your intelligence and not your stupidity.

Deflect the negative

You could just make a comment such as "how disappointing". It means nothing but it does get the bully to think.

Importance of body language

When you are working with bullies ensure that your body language supports your comments. Make sure your shoulders are parallel with theirs and that you maintain high eye contact. If the latter is difficult, look at a spot in the middle of their forehead because if you are more than a metre away they will think you are looking directly at them.

Collective Response

If fear is running rife in your department because a tyrant is running it, then you and your colleagues should write a round robin memo to the tyrant's boss and CC the HR Department. The memo should outline the specific behaviours that you all find unacceptable. It should be unemotional, to the point and factual.

A boss, no matter how tyrannical, is only successful through his or her people and every organisation knows this. Whilst drastic, I would expect that you will only have to do this once.

Be successful.

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