Skip to main content

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!


Popular posts from this blog

The Loneliest Yard Sale

Do you like yard sales? I know that some people do. The few times that I've participated in yard sales there were always eager shoppers there BEFORE the announced opening time. I've even seen a man (who was extremely well-dressed for yard sale shopping) carrying a map with all of the local yard sales marked, numbered in the order of starting time and access. He was looking for extreme bargains, with some very specific items in mind (he had to have boundaries, he was making the circuit on his bicycle.)

Some people love yard sales. The bargains, the sudden finds, the thrill of the hunt. I do not enjoy them as much, because some have an air of desperation: please buy this crap that I don't want anymore.

It's not all crap. But, some is.

One particular yard sale that wore me out and sucked the joy out of them for me was set up by my significant other at the time. It's the yard sale in the picture above. That's it, just about -- the whole yard sale. Do you see anyth…

Reinventing Ourselves

How often do you change?
Not little changes, not incremental changes, but really big changes. Changes that radically effect the way you operate. Changes that send you in a new direction. Changes that even readjust your circle of friends.
That's how fast the world is changing -- in ways that force us to change or fall behind. Small changes are not enough, we need to frequently reinvent ourselves.
Centered leaders know that it's everyone's job to constantly reinvent ourselves.
What is your next change?
What is your next reinvention?
-- Douglas Brent Smith

Variations in Quality?

How do you feel about quality?

A long time ago I was a Blue Willow china fan. I collected pieces wherever I could find them, one at a time mostly, at garage sales, antique shops, and occasionally home goods stores. My collection was humble and yet it brought me much joy. Somehow the subtly Asian look to the pictures which seemed to be telling untold stories fascinated me. My grandmother had a complete set and it was a joy to eat and drink from them.

One day I decided to order a complete set so that my family could not just admire them, but also eat from them every day. Frugal person that I am, I was enticed into buying a big box of the set by mail order. This was long before Amazon or any kind of online ordering and the picture in the magazine looked great. I could hardly believe my luck!

Until the box arrived. It was a big box, to be sure, and carefully packed. The very first thing I saw though, at the very top of the packing material, was a roughly printed set of "instructions…

The Benefits of Supervisory Training

When was the last time you had any leadership training?
How often do the supervisors in your organization get training?
If you are like most organizations, it's never enough. Some teams go without any supervisory training at all and expect supervisors and managers to learn as they go, on the job. Unfortunately, while it is memorable to learn from your mistakes, it comes at a high cost. People get tired. People leave. Important accounts go away. Customers complain. And teams struggle without the skills and knowledge it takes to build cohesive teams that are capable of solving problems, improving performance and achieving goals.
Admittedly, I can be expected to support training since I'm in the business. Still, take a closer look at your own leadership career and decide for yourself. Are leaders better off with more training and development or with less?
Supervisory training can generate benefits that pay off long after the training is over.
Here are just a few of the things supervi…

Own It

High performance leaders make peace with their mistakes without pretending that they never happened.

-- doug smith

There Is Always Another Goal

Achieving a goal does not promise you perfection. There is always another goal.

Find it. Set it. Get it going.

-- doug smith

Goals are Negotiable

Have you ever been stuck with goals that no longer work for you?

Did someone else stick you with those goals, or did you do it to yourself?

High performance leaders set lots of goals, but they don't get emotional about realizing that they can't possibly achieve all of them. Life brings complications, strategies change, better goals come along.

Working on a project, working for a boss, working on change -- if the goal is big enough there is likely to be disagreement. That's OK. Talk about it. Negotiate. Find a goal you can agree on instead of grudgingly plunging forward on a loser. And then, stay calm. There's no need to take a disagreement personally.

We can disagree on goals without becoming disagreeable.

-- doug smith

If you have the same problem that you had a year ago you have not yet found the real problem.

Keep digging.

-- doug smith

Set 5 Top Goals

How many top priorities do you have?

The trouble with too many top priorities is getting them done. Too many top priorities means you don't really have priorities -- just a really long list of goals.

Have all the goals you want. Goals are great. I've know people who carry a list of 100 goals. They check them off one by one, and some have truly accomplished nearly half. That takes time, and feels more like a bucket list than a goals list.

Top goals are what you work on first. Top goals are what you prioritize above all else. Top goals are where your results make a meaningful distance.

High performance leaders show the courage to focus on five top goals.

How many do you focus on?

-- doug smith

Feedback Gets You Deeper

The criticism kept coming in increasingly uncomfortable detail. It was so much to digest in one sitting. It was enough to make anyone defensive and resistant to change, and I could feel myself heading that way.

That moment when the other person's voice fades into the white noise of your head and echoes like a meaningless harp in the distance. That moment when we shut someone off.

But I told myself to stay focused and attentive. I remembered that I was hearing one filtered view, but that I could still learn from it. Whether or not what she said was true, there was something creating that perception. Now was the time to understand, not influence, that perception.

The mistake I've often made in receiving critical feedback is trying to change perception on the spot. It doesn't work. That person has entered that space with that perception based on what has already happened outside that space. The place to influence that perception is the space that gave birth to it.

Now was the…