4 Tactics for Dealing With a Mean Boss

Businesswoman sitting at table in restaurant with head resting on hand
Businesswoman sitting at table in restaurant with head resting on hand

Got a bad boss? The good news is you're not alone. Up to 65 million Americans have been impacted by bullying in the workplace at some point -- and most of the time the boss is to blame. The bad news is you still need to show up to work every morning and survive (at the very least). What's a girl to do?

Although it's tempting to try and avoid your boss (who wants a confrontation, after all), licensed therapist, coach and behavior change expert Melody Wilding says by doing so you're only hurting yourself. "Going home and venting about what a jerk your boss may feel good," she cautions, "but it does nothing to constructively improve the situation." And eventually those bad feelings will start impacting other areas of your life, even leading to depression and anxiety.

So instead of sinking into despair, make a plan. Preparation is power, and we've got the tips that will help you manage a difficult situation.


1. Find an Outlet and Manage Your Frustration
In any difficult work situation (heck, in any difficult situation) it's important to manage your own frustration. This is no exception -- especially if you need to stay in your job (at least for the short term). Career Coach Elena Konstant suggests meditation, breathing exercises, a quick walk or break -- whatever it takes to keep your cool.

This may also be a good time to look inward -- and assess how your own emotions may impact the steps you take moving forward. "Do you tend to take criticism as a personal attack? Does your boss trigger memories of someone else who mistreated you in your life? This self-awareness exercise helps you understand and gain control over emotional reactions like anger, frustration, or defeat that come up," Wilding says.

2. Take the Professional High Road
It's easy to run to HR with your complaints -- but be prepared. You don't want to be seen as the employee who cried wolf. Instead, you may want to meet with your boss prior to escalating anything. A face-to-face meeting may be productive if (and only if) you're able to manage your emotions (here's where those meditation exercises will come in handy).

Wilding cautions against "confronting" your boss, instead focus on "discussing" your concerns. "Bullying bosses often use personal attacks as a way to bait you into an emotional reaction, so be aware of that," she says. "If you act defensive, you'll just be rewarding their bad behavior and perpetuating the cycle. Instead, take the professional high-road. Approach it as a problem solving conversation, from the perspective of 'here are my concerns, now how can we make this work?'"

3. Document, Document, Document
Even if you're planning on meeting with your boss it's best to document every incident as soon as you start noticing a problem -- and be detailed. "Keep track of assignments, accomplishments, exchanges, and any other information relevant to demonstrate a detrimental pattern of behavior," Konstant says. By maintaining a paper trail you'll be able to provide the right type of evidence to the higher-ups if necessary.

If you can, Wilding suggests even trying to identify how your boss's behavior may be impacting the company. "Document data that backs up how your boss' bad behavior detracts from business results," she says. "If you can point to a loss in clients or a drop in productivity, you have a factual business case to support why it's imperative that things change."

4. Consult HR
Let's say you've tried meeting with your boss and nothing's changed -- or the situation is becoming increasingly toxic. This would be the right time to collect your notes and arrange a meeting with HR.

If some added pressure on your boss doesn't make things better it's probably time to consider leaving your position. "No one should tolerate abuse," Wilding says. "Sometimes valuing your self-respect has to come before having a job."

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Sarah Chang, the author of this post, serves as Managing Editor at GoGirl Finance. Her writing has been seen on The Huffington Post and The Stir, among other publications.