Lessons from a Recovering Doormat

Lessons from a Recovering Doormat


Question: How Do I Handle a Mean Boss?

A reader responded to my post last week on People Who Tear You Down with a question. How do you respond to a boss who picks on you, puts you down, and then acts like he’s got your back. She needs the job as there aren’t many things she can do living where she does.

People in my workshops often complain about an unresponsive, overly demanding or disrespectful boss. If you need your job, you can feel helpless to stand up to him or her. But you can! The best way to handle it is nicely! I believe most people in high authority are decent souls, but they’re often under pressure and take it out on those under them. When you approach a boss with that belief, communication can be easier and the person is more likely to understand your point.

Usually if we do say something, the anger we feel gets into our tone and the person feels it. The reader says when she talks to her boss, he does more things to get even after. Nobody likes to feel attacked. Telling him what he’s doing wrong puts him on the defensive, and all he’ll hear is that you don’t like what he did. Speaking in a friendly, non-accusatory tone can change that. A conversation works so much better than a lecture or complaint.

If possible, ask your boss if you can buy him a cup of coffee or lunch. If that doesn’t work, find a peaceful time and ask for a few minutes. Start by saying something positive. Say that you like your job and appreciate him as your boss. Acknowledge how hard he works and the stress he might be under. It can soften him to hear you out more objectively. Remember, the boss is a person. Think in terms of having a discussion instead of a confrontation.

Be prepared with specific examples of things he said or did and why you deserved respect and appreciation. Begin by asking what he thinks of your job performance. Keep an even, friendly tone in your voice, and smile. Then explain that he may not realize what he does but it doesn’t feel good. Does he have a problem with you that you can work on? Emphasize that you respect him and want your work relationship to be positive. How can you work together to make it so? Tell him you like him and hope you can clear up any issues between you.

Keep your voice even, soft and friendly. He’s more likely to hear it without judgment if you don’t make it about feeling judged. Emphasize you’d just like to improve how you work together because you respect him as a boss and would like to earn his respect. You truly can catch more flies with honey rather than vinegar as they say. Try a gentle approach instead of lashing out or holding it in and making yourself ill. It might not work, but it’s a good shot for having a more peaceful workplace.
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  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment viqueen

    I’m the reader who wrote about an angry boss, and I really appreciate that you devoted a column to this. While I spent most of the first 3 years being nice, trying to humor him, but my patience is running thin. When I have had to question him, or present differing information I seem to have the best results when someone is a witness. Talking with him one on one – he just dismisses or belittles what I say. It’s like he makes a joke but sends an unnecessary silent, poison dart in the mix, just to shut me up; because the caustic remarks really shut me down, and not in a good way.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Daylle Deanna Schwartz

    Happy to do it. I’m sure other readers experience this. I didn’t mean kiss up or humor him. I meant explaining that it’s unacceptable behavior and you’d like to have a better working relationship. I’d keep a log of things he does. At some point you may have a case for harassment.

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