Friday, March 17, 2017

Strategies for Dealing With A Bullying Boss

Is your boss a bully?

A surprisingly large number of people in the workforce (over half!) have had a boss who uses bullying, Machiavellian methods of authority and control. It can be really tough to deal with, especially when you consider that the boss has ultimate (or so it would seem) control over your current career. They use that to their advantage, but there are things that we can do when faced with a bully boss.

Gleaned from several sources, I consider this list to be a work in progress. I'm interested in your ideas as well because as I conduct training on communication skills, leadership, and productivity many people struggle with what can only be defined as bad bosses.

Here are some things to do:

  • Remain assertive (not aggressive and NOT passive.) Maintain eye contact. (1)
  • Do NOT rely on HR for help. They are NOT on your side.
  • Document every incident with the person who causes you concern, including especially incidents of bullying, teasing, berating, harassing. Quietly build your case. (1)
  • Avoid talking about the problem person but DO maintain healthy relationships with the people you work with. When you can, keep them nearby when you must encounter the difficult boss.(1)
  • Present your ideas in a way that allows your tyrannical boss to take at least partial credit. (2)
  • Choose your battles wisely and control your emotions when confrontation is necessary. (2)
  • Talk about it with the difficult boss. (5) As tough as that conversation might be, it likely is necessary. It's a great time to practice your CLUES to Success
Something else to consider comes from the thin book "How To Deal With Difficult People" by Paul Friedman:

"Keep in mind that the difficult people you encounter usually think you're the one who's being difficult." (p.42)

The good news on that? You do control YOUR behavior. Maybe there's something you can do to create a better relationship.

I realize that's not always true, which is while I've listed the tactics above. People are complicated, and sometimes they're difficult. The bully for a boss is one of the worst.


  1. 10 Tips for Dealing With A Bullying Boss - from CIO. Lots of pages to click thru but some nuggets of useful information, especially if people-skills is not your core strength.
  2. How Successful People Overcome Toxic Bosses - Breaks down bad bosses into different types (such as the Micromanager, the Tyrant, The Incompetent, The Robot...) and provides tacts for dealing with each type.
  3. The Machiavellian Boss - From Psychology Today. Short on advice but rich with detail describing the traits of a Mach and how they score on key leadership suppositions. Useful to gain insights into the motivations of a tyrant or devious boss who oddly enough believes their behavior is productive and even noble.
  4. Your Boss Isn't Just a Psychopath, It's Way Worse Than That - From FastCompany's FastCoExist illustrates the problem of a bad boss and offers the skills you need to navigate office politics (even if it leaves a bit of a sour taste for you): Astuteness, Effectiveness, Networking, The Appearance of Sincerity). That last one is the one that might cause the distaste. The point of the article, agree or not, is that one in five business communications is a lie and we either navigate that or fall victim to it. While I'm not sure about that, see what you think.
  5. How To Deal With Difficult Co-Workers: It's not just your boss who might be difficult. Molly Triffon examines six common difficult types (The Complainer, The Idea Stealer, The Bully, The Slacker, The Gossiper, The Know-It-All) and what to do with them.
  6. How To Deal With Difficult People, Revised Edition - Paul Friedman, SkillPath Publications, 1994, Mission, KS 

Links have a way of changing or going away, so if you find a busted link in this list and you let me know about it I will fix the list.  Thanks!

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