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Ask a Grown Up: What Can I Do About The Boss From Hell?

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What’s up, Broke-Asses? How’s your work week going?

As sure as the sky is blue and that there are 24 hours in each day, everyone has had a B.F.H. (Boss From Hell) at some point in their working life. This can be tricky: Your gut reaction might be to go postal on your boss (like in “Swimming with Sharks”), in reality a more sensible version of yourself (the self that likes eating and living indoors) prevails and likely swallows the abuse and just tries to muddle through the day.

As validating as it might be to go full crazy on your B.F.H, we recommend a more measured and politic solution.

 This week our question comes to us from L.G. in New York, who asks:

“Help me Grown Up! I have the absolute boss from hell. Nothing anyone in our office does is good enough for her, she regularly calls us ‘fucking idiots’ and the only way she knows how to communicate is by screaming. I really really REALLY need this job, but I dread going into work every morning. Can you help me figure out what to do?”

First off, L.G. I feel compelled to ask: Are you a fucking idiot?

Just kidding! Of course you’re not! Even if you were, that is no justification for your employer or supervisor to speak to you in anything less than a professional, courteous tone. Experience tells me there are two types of managers in the world:

  1. Those who manage via support, building up esteem and teaching critical success tools to their employees.
  2. And, those who manage by intimidating their employees into doing their jobs in a merely adequate fashion.

It sounds to me like you have an IntimiBoss™, better known as a bully in business suit. That totally sucks for you, but it is important to know that this is a very common problem: According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, 35% of the American workforce (53.5 million people) have experienced bullying at work.

“Bullying in the workplace is similar to the school playground in that people are being demeaned or exploited,” says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and author. “But in the office, bullying is far more subversive and challenging to overcome, as these grown bullies are adept at finding non-assertive victims and staying under the radar.” [via Forbes]

The key to derailing a bully boss is calm communication. Steven P. Cohen, author of The Practical Negotiator says, “If one party is emotional and the other stays calm, the unemotional one has far more leverage.” [via Fortune]

frank-underwood-bad-boss-kevin-spacey-house-of-cardsFeel fortunate you do not work for or with Frank Underwood, as if you did, you could potentially end up being thrown in front of a train for questioning your boss.

My number one suggestion would be: Do not tolerate their bad behavior. Make your expectation for professional interactions known calmly, assertively and clearly. Before anything can change, you need to let your boss know you have a problem with how they communicate with you. Here is how to do it:

  • Have a prepared response: Write down a calm, respectful response to your boss and practice saying it over and over again. (Example: “[Insert Name Here], please do not speak to me this way. Unless you can communicate calmly and professionally, I will not continue this conversation.”) When your boss starts to scream, use the practiced response, think of it like throwing a stick into a bike wheel – it stops the bike. (In this analogy, your statement is the stick and the bike is your boss screaming.)
  • Be stony and silent: After you make your statement say nothing, do nothing for five to 10 seconds. Sometimes this will be all you need to trip the reset button on an interaction with an irrational person.
  • Restart the conversation: If your prepared statement and silence has successfully paused the conversation, follow up by saying “Why don’t we try this again? What can I help you with?
  • Remove yourself from the conversation: If the screaming doesn’t stop, you should leave the room, end the call or otherwise put distance between you and the person behaving badly. By clearly communicating that you find their behavior unacceptable and following up with action, you take back the power in the transaction. This sends a clear message that you expect a change in their behavior.

It is likely that you’ll have to do this several times before it sinks into the brain of your boss that it would be more effective to speak to you in a reasonable tone. But, keep trying! If every time she starts to scream you follow these exact same four steps, eventually she will realize that her screaming is halting productivity. If there is no improvement after a fair amount of effort on your part, the next step is to take it to H.R. or a supervisor to lodge a complaint and ask for help in resolving the situation.

The final step, of course, is to find another job or to quit. There is a lot of fear surrounding quitting jobs, but realistically it is perfectly acceptable to leave employment where you are being abused. Just make sure you have a plan in place so you don’t end up screwing yourself financially. And, let me tell you from experience, if you do leave to take another position, or just plain quit a job where you are being bullied or abused by a manager, there is a fair amount of karmic vindication in the moment when you are able to say “Hey! Go fuck yourself gently with a chainsaw, I am outta here.” If nothing else, cling to that until you are able to extract yourself from the clutches of your B.F.H. and her scream-a-thons, L.G. – good luck!

Got a question you need a Grown Up to answer? Email Kate at and your question might be used in a future column.

[Swimming With Sharks image via IMDB]

[House of Cards image via Netflix]

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Kate Rice - Supposed Grown Up

Kate Rice - Supposed Grown Up

Kate Rice is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on DollyMix (UK), BitchBuzz (UK), Broke Ass Stuart’s Goddamn Website, the Chicago RedEye, ChicagoNow, Wired: GeekMom, Bleeding Cool, Wizard World Digital, The Beat and GeekNation, where she also hosted the weekly podcast “ComixChix.” Kate has appeared on Good Morning America, WGN Radio and a slew of geek related podcasts. She writes the daily blog The Adorkable Grrl. Kate lives in LA with her #BritishHusband, her daughter, and dog Max. Follow her on Twitter @AdorkableGrrl or on Facebook or on Instagram @TheAdorkableGrrl