Developing Your Response to the Bully Boss

I’m going to share an amazing secret with you: you may not have control over every situation in life, but you have control over how you approach and respond to it.

Read that again. You have the ability to control yourself in every situation you encounter. You get to decide how you show up. You get to decide what the next moment will be like. This is an incredibly important thing to note.

And when it comes to dealing with a Bully Boss or some other toxic workplace situation, this can take you far.

I previously wrote about why adopting a “grin and bear it” mentality just doesn’t work when you’re working for a Bully Boss. And this can be particularly challenging when some people find themselves in a situation where finding new employment isn’t an option (or might be taking longer than you want).

But it’s possible to develop an effective response to a Bully Boss, even when it seems like it takes a lot of energy from you.

Here’s my guidance to help you consider how to stay true to yourself when you work for a Bully Boss and feel like you’ve lost control of the situation.

  1. Stop and Notice. Maybe the Bully Boss just yelled at you in front of everyone in a big meeting. Maybe they teased you in a very mean and unprofessional way. Maybe they encourage toxic gossip behavior with others. Whatever their behavior, take a breath and analyze the situation. Stop and notice what you’re thinking and feeling. Maybe you feel insulted or embarrassed. Maybe you are frustrated and annoyed. Maybe you feel pressured to answer an unwelcome invitation for fear of retaliation. Whatever you’re thinking or feeling, don’t judge it, just notice it.
  2. Figure out what inspires those thoughts and feelings. Recognize the feelings you have when you encounter a challenging moment with the Bully Boss and ask yourself why you’re feeling those big emotions. Frequently, we have big feelings and emotions when our values are called into question or if they are challenged. If you take great pride in your work and the Bully Boss constantly berates you for a poor job, you’ll have very powerful feelings around that. If you feel threatened in your job security because of an answer your Bully Boss doesn’t like, you’ll feel very strong feelings around this (and possibly conflicted thoughts that challenge your values). Notice when your feelings are the direct result of a value or belief you hold that you know is core to who you are. This also comes from gaining greater self-awareness.
  3. Choose your next action. You’ve intentionally recognized an event that is out of your control, why it inspires certain feelings and why those feelings come up. The next step is to decide what to do. Now, it doesn’t necessarily mean show up fighting or quit with no notice; there are options in between these extremes. What it means is that you can choose your attitude about this situation and the thoughts and actions it inspires. As you decide who you are (and will be) regardless of what others say and do, you create the internal strength to control your thoughts and actions. You stay in control of you.

Think of it this way: if you know you work for a Bully Boss, chances are that those around you know it too. If you’re yelled at in front of others or if you’re invited to join in a toxic gossip conversation, and you control your response to the situation, you’ll find it’s easier to always pick an action that is aligned to you. And a bonus: you just might become the inspiration for others to find their voice, as well.

You’ve figured out the Bully Boss is the issue, so what can you do about it? If you have control over the situation, go change it. If you don’t have control, figure out who and how you want to be in the situation. Remember, as you control your feelings and attitude about the situation, you will control your thoughts and actions. You will be who you want and believe yourself to be in any situation.

Take Action
This approach most definitely takes practice and a bit of resilience, as well, especially if the Bully Boss has been a presence in your life for any extended period of time. So practice it. Start to recognize when events in life inspire strong feelings, and notice when those feelings are positive and productive, too. This will help you build up your stamina to build your confidence to know that when confronted by a tough situation or a Bully Boss, you will be the person you choose to be.

By Kristin Allaben

Consider reading Create Your Stopper

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“Grin and Bear It” Doesn’t Work with a Bully Boss

Working for a Bully Boss is hard and, unfortunately, so relatable. We’ve seen the Bully Boss portrayed in movies and shows as the incompetent idiot to the raging lunatic. And you know why those movies and shows are so popular? Because everyone can relate to the Bully Boss experience to some degree.

I certainly am one of them. For some reason, I’ve had more than my fair share of Bully Bosses (both men and women), from the manager who didn’t know how to speak at a normal volume (read: I was always yelled at) to the one who changed department goals overnight without communicating them to the team. It can feel like you’re being pulled in 20 different directions with no clear direction to find your way out.

It’s exhausting. It challenges your self-esteem. It inspires self-doubt. It impacts the way you show up to work and the way you show up to your relationships outside of work. And worse, these Bully Bosses always make you feel like you are the problem.

Working for a Bully Boss is hard.

And though others may try to offer to help, the options presented are always one of two things: make a change or suck it up.

Sometimes, making a change isn’t an option due to a variety of reasons, so it leaves people little choice but to grin and bear it.

But this is important: accepting a “grin and bear it” attitude with a Bully Boss doesn’t work.

Here’s why:

  1. Your attitude changes. You try to protect yourself in some way, so you adopt an indifference approach to how you show up to work. In your effort to let the nasty and toxic behaviors roll off your shoulders, you unwittingly shut yourself off from everything else. You become a shell of yourself, lacking enthusiasm, dedication and, perhaps most importantly, your personality. You are disengaged and disconnected. The difficult things in life seem to rise to the top as your attitude has shifted from optimism to pessimism.
  2. Your work changes. When you adopt the indifference attitude, your work starts to suffer. You don’t go the extra mile or engage in new ideas that can generate great opportunities for you and the business. Instead, you do just enough to not get fired. You try to fly under the radar, delivering items as they’re due, and never before. You stop looking for ways to expand your career or develop yourself because you just want to get through the day, and that’s all you can think of. And sometimes, the harsh criticisms you get from the Bully Boss about the quality of your work start to materialize.
  3. Your home life changes. When you work for a jerk and feel defeated throughout the day, it’s hard to not bring that defeated attitude home. And whether it’s intentional or not, as soon as you become indifferent to your work, you start to become indifferent to many of the other things around you, even things you care most about. You start to lack energy and excitement for the things you really looked forward to and instead opt to just sit and rest. You feel tired more often and you disengage from your friends and family. Sometimes, you can even begin to recognize real health issues.

You can’t just grin and bear it when you work for a Bully Boss. It’s a cascading thing; they intrude into every part of your life if you let them.

So before you tell yourself to just “grin and bear it” and push through your day, stop and notice the person you’ve become. This can be an enlightening moment for you, if you let it.

Take Action
If you work for a Bully Boss or find yourself in a toxic work environment, ask yourself: am I staying true to who I am?

The person you are, at your core, cannot be changed unless you allow it. You control the direction of your life. If you can’t control a situation, you can control your response to it. Decide who you want to be without regard to who others are. You own you. Choose your attitude and your approach. It is empowering.

So, if your Bully Boss is impacting how you show up (to work and life), consider looking for new employment options. It might not happen overnight, but know when it is time. And, be sure to properly vet each new opportunity to avoid moving from one Bully Bos to another. Stay clear about who you are and how you will show up to the things in your work and life. Make changes as necessary. Your sanity and happiness is yours to create.

By Kristin Allaben

Consider reading How You Act Won’t Influence How I Show Up and take our quiz Do I Work for a Bully Boss?

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When the Bully Boss Intrudes at Home

A majority of the working world does their work from home. When we were all sent to the safety of our homes at the start of the COVID pandemic last year, organizations rushed to find a way to ensure the work would still get done. And a lot of them succeeded.

But there was an unforeseen consequence to the shift to the remote world: inviting the Bully Boss into your home.

A Bully Boss is one of the most challenging bullies people can face in their lives. They’re mean and ruthless, unafraid to point out a person’s flaws to the largest audience possible without offering any guidance into how improvements can be made. They’re loud, they scream and they’re quick to anger. They can be manipulative and love to point the finger instead of accepting blame or admitting mistakes.

Though this sounds like any type of bully, the big difference in a schoolyard bully and a Bully Boss is this: they have a direct impact on your ability to make a living.

For this reason, many people just grin and bear it, pushing through the mental beating day after day because they need the paycheck. And they look forward to the end of the day when they can escape to the restorative place they call home. Some would call this a hostile workplace.

When you work for a Bully Boss, your home becomes your safe haven, your sanctuary, the place where you can escape from their wrath and get refocused and re-energized before the next day.

But now that you work at home? Your Bully Boss has direct access to you any time they want. They’ve intruded into your safe space, erasing the line you precariously drew to keep work and life separate for your mental wellbeing.

So how do you manage the Bully Boss when your safe haven is now your workspace?

Here are 3 ways to shift your mindset to manage the presence of the Bully Boss in your home.

1. Find your voice.
Up until now, actively trying to avoid the Bully Boss, especially if they were having a particularly bad day, became almost an office game. Just like buzzword bingo, the game created a sense of unity with those you worked with. People would tell you where the Bully Boss was headed or where they were so you could take the long way around. You knew to keep your head down and avoid eye contact.

But now, when the Bully Boss wants you, there’s no hiding. They have direct access to you. They can email you repeatedly, ping you on a messenger app or use Zoom for face-to-face discussions. There’s little escape here. This may seem particularly daunting, especially when you lose your squad; no one has insight into who the Bully Boss will zoom in on next.

But when you’re at home, you’re able to tap into a unique strength: your space. You can decide how you will and won’t be treated in your own home. Use this as your launching pad to decide the type of language and behavior you expect in your home and embody it. Use it to find your voice.

This doesn’t necessarily mean telling them off. Start small. Recognize the tone you’re using and the words you choose to use. Keep your language positive and upbeat. Lean into that restorative energy your home provides to use your voice in a productive way. Sometimes, that positive shift in your voice unintentionally boosts your confidence and can easily rub off on those around you.

2. Take control of your image.
I mean this literally. Since so many organizations rely on Zoom and other video chat options to engage with each other face-to-face, take control of the image you want your Bully Boss – and other colleagues – to see. When you dial into a video call, you know everyone looks at the image behind you, so think ahead: what do you want them to see? Whether it’s your home office organized or decorated a certain way, or even just a personalized background image, take control of the image you project. Similar to your word choice and tone, knowing you control your image can also create a confidence boost, letting you show up stronger and more engaged, regardless of what the Bully Boss might be throwing your way.

3. You don’t live with them.
At the end of the day, it’s all about perspective. Yes, they are still your boss and yes, they have intruded on your private space. But here’s the great silver lining: you don’t live with them. You can log off and walk away from your desk with the peace of mind that they don’t live there. If nothing else, this should give you an instant boost in morale and confidence that you can control just how much they see of your space and how much you’re willing to let their behavior impact you in your own home.

Though these tips are helpful to manage your response and approach to dealing with a Bully Boss, sometimes, your physical and mental health are threatened and you requires an intentional next step: be prepared to make a change if necessary. It all comes down to your physical, mental and emotional health. Remember the adage, “people quit people before they quit companies.” If you like working at your company, determine if you can transfer to a different department or team. If you’re looking for a completely fresh start, create a list of potential organizations that would be a fit for you and start exploring new options.

You are worth the support, care and encouragement of a great boss. You never should put up with a bully – anywhere in life – but particularly in the workplace.

Do you work for a Bully Boss? Take our quiz to find out.

By Kristin Allaben

Consider reading How You Act Won’t Influence How I Show Up

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