When you have a problem with your boss, some of your options for dealing with the situation are limited. But there are best practices you can follow. I had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Kristene Doyle, Director of the Albert Ellis Institute and an adjunct professor with St. John’s University and the University of London, about a couple of things. Dr. Doyle has been a psychology and therapy expert on CBS, CNN, BusinessInsider.com and the WB11 Morning News. She’s helped professionals, couples, and adults deal with all kinds of conflicts involving social issues, anxiety, relationships, anger management, family, and workplace.
I had in mind some familiar scenarios when I asked Dr. Doyle a couple of questions. The first one was How do you approach a boss who always undermines your effort?
Dr. Doyle: The first thing I tell employees is to check your emotions at the door. People who are angry, anxious, or depressed often do not convey the message they intended to deliver. Although you may have every right to feel angry at your undermining boss, approaching him/her while you are angry will likely create a distraction from the real problem. Your emotional upset becomes the focus.
I would recommend that you manage your emotions and practice some assertive conversations prior to approaching your boss. Ask a friend who can be both objective and supportive to give you feedback. When expressing yourself, do not be vague in what you are describing. Give specific, concrete examples of what you are referring to.
For example, stay away from “You are constantly undermining my efforts in my job” because implicit in that statement is an assumption that your boss is aware of what he/she is doing. Instead, it is better to spell it out for your boss: “When you dismissed my report that I submitted, which I spent a great deal of time on, I felt overlooked and dismissed as an employee. I would really appreciate when you give me constructive feedback you also acknowledge my efforts.”
In this assertive statement, you are taking responsibility for your emotional reactions to your boss’s behavior, as well as making a specific request for the future. There is no blame that is being placed on your boss, which will put him/her on the defensive and further undermining behaviors. Additionally, it may be helpful to express to your boss your perspection on what he/she is doing (again with cited specific examples) and try as a team to brainstorm possible solutions to the problem.
My second question was How do you manage the bully boss?
Dr. Doyle: This is not an easy task, but it can be done. When you have an incident with your bully boss, document, document, document. If it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen. As much as possible, try and disconnect your emotions from your interactions with your boss. Keep in mind that an attack on you is often masking an emotional issue on the part of your boss. Try and connect with other coworkers. Do not isolate yourself. Isolation breeds bullying, so align yourself with others. There is strength in numbers.
In that vein, remember that one is more likely to get injured in a dark alley than on a crowded street. Put yourself in the presence of other employees, customers, or clients that your bully boss highly regards, and you will be less likely to become a target. If you are feeling overwhelmed or threatened by your boss, politely excuse yourself to go the bathroom or a meeting to diffuse the situation. Finally, while it may be tempting to talk to other employees about what is happening with your boss, it is in your best long-term interest to play it calm and cool as you build your case against your bullying boss. Don’t put all your cards on anyone’s table in the process. It will likely backfire.
What other kinds of issues have you seen with your boss?