What To Do About A Bully Boss

I was recently asked by Forbes magazine what advice I would give an employee who is being bullied by a boss. Some of my response and great tips from other professionals can be found in the published articles.


Part I – http://blogs.forbes.com/work-in-progress/2010/12/06/never-mind-co-worker-sabotage-what-if-im-dealing-with-a-bully-boss-part-one/
Part II – http://blogs.forbes.com/work-in-progress/2010/12/06/never-mind-co-worker-sabotage-what-if-im-dealing-with-a-bully-boss-part-two/

I want to share with our readers some additional information that I think is helpful to know when you are dealing with this first hand or advising others. Unfortunately, employees perceive supervisor “bullying” more often than management may realize which inadvertently can get the organization into legal hot water and leaves both parties feeling unfulfilled and resentful. Here is a quick synopsis of what I often encounter:

  • Boss isn’t getting what he/she needs from their direct report in order to meet the department/organizational objectives.
  • The direct reporter isn’t getting the feedback he/she requires to understand what’s expected or how they can improve performance. He/she rationalizes this result by convincing her/himself that their career growth is stymied by the supervisor and/or that they are not receiving the same opportunities as their peers and are being treated unfairly or “bullied”.
  • Neither is getting what they need to be successful.

In my experience, the frequent reality is that neither is willing to have an honest conversation about the employee’s performance so both parties suffer in silence. The employee may feel that there could be some truth to what the supervisor may say and their ego isn’t open to hearing it. The supervisor isn’t excited about having the uncomfortable “failure to perform” conversation with the employee and also isn’t willing to see how they might be contributing to the issue or make the investment of time in that individual to get them up to speed. So both parties keep quiet, animosities build up and both parties feel the other “just doesn’t understand/can’t cut it”. The longer things go, the more the employee feels bullied. While I wouldn’t call this situation “bullying” in its true sense, it’s all about perception.

As I mentioned in the article, if this were a client of ours I would encourage the employee to have the hard conversation with their boss in a non-confrontational manner by stating some of their observations and perceptions. It is critical that the employee’s tone come across as non-threatening and offered in the spirit of creating a productive working relationship between the two parties. It’s in the employee’s best interest to 1) ensure h/she isn’t misreading the situation and 2) to demonstrate recognition that a string of events are occurring and offer a sincere attempt to create a more amiable situation for themselves and the work environment. There may be two sides to the story that can be worked out through discussion.

If it’s truly a situation of bullying or trying to force someone out, the employee will generally know after trying to discuss the situation with the perceived offender. At that point, the employee should document the events/attempts at conversation and escalate the need for action by talking with the HR department and/or the offender’s boss to ask for help on how to create a more productive environment. HR can often help the employee brainstorm the situation and monitor/investigate if needed to ensure the company, including all of its employees, are protected to the extent possible. The employee may be perceived as a troublemaker or someone who is disruptive, and in that case I would say get out of the situation as soon as you can. Life is short and there are better companies out there. On the flip side, the employee could score points with management and other employees by demonstrating their willingness to put themselves out there in the company’s best interest. It’s all about confidence and how you approach the situation.

Management respects individuals who take a non-confrontational, constructive approach and are willing to take risks. It’s these types of individuals that drive businesses forward.

What are your thoughts? Let's discuss:

5 Comments on "What To Do About A Bully Boss"

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Mattie B.
You make a comment to go to HR, but I have found this to be counter-productive. HR really is not there to protect the employee, but rather to protect the company from acting in such a way as to bring on litigation from breaking labor laws. I think that writing an article putting some of the examples of bullying as bullet points would give the reader a clearer understanding of what constitutes bullying in the workplace. Sometimes it is not as clear-cut, and what might be seen as being a “tough” manager is actually bullying, especially when they threaten to… Read more »
[…] Mattie B. was correct in stating that HR is there “to protect the company from acting in such a way as to bring on litigation from breaking labor laws.” Much of the human resources function is about risk mitigation and that does involve protecting employees and the employers. Each employer has the ability to determine the level of risk they are willing to take. Unfortunately workplace bullying is not illegal. Therefore the risk is not as obvious to an employer as one might think. There are some great organizations that will listen and respond to workplace bullying issues, but… Read more »
I’m experiencing right now workplace bullying from my immediate supervisor and it is a mental torture for me. The ironic thing is that I work for a union and they advocate for their members and even fight for their members about workplace bullying, but I and several others in my department are going thru the same thing. This supervisor is manipulative, deceptive and a liar. I’ve caught this person in other lies, and just recently she outright lied in front of me and my union rep. She twisted my words. I could not believe it and I was so disgusted… Read more »

"My professional passion stems from a fascination with how the individual needs of employees, managers, and the business converge to produce an outcome. I’m driven by a desire to help leaders and employees find the balance between competing needs so they can work together to address the challenges they face."