How to Deal with Bully Bosses



plural noun: perceptions

  1. the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses
  2. the way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted

There is a very good reason why I have started this article with the definition of perception. We are all programmed to see things through our senses, and our programming is subjective. It is an accumulation of our past environment, experiences, our beliefs and our societal influence. Whilst you might see someone or a situation as difficult, I might see them entirely differently.

But it matters not how we see things, but how we react and deal with them.

There are most definitely prickly personalities in our jobs, and then there are those who know just what buttons to push to get a reaction from us.

I learnt decades ago that it is best not to rise to the occasion of retaliation, and neither does it serve you to sink to another’s level of antagonism, insult or blatant disrespect. Difficult people exist; in our families, at work, in our communities and in circles we travel in. There are a myriad of reasons why some people are difficult, however, it is NOT your job to try and change them, and neither is it your job to point out their perceived shortcomings that you are looking at. It IS your job to take control of your emotions, to breathe, pause before responding, and then to choose whether this is a good time to engage with the person, or to walk away and to revisit the situation when all parties have cooled down.

Let me give you some practical examples, as I know it can seem impossible for you to walk away, when dealing with a difficult and rude boss. So, how do you deal with that? Let me help you by painting the backdrop that I have grown up with – Section 10 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa provides for the right to human dignity: ‘Everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected‘. In short, human beings are entitled to be treated as worthy of respect and concern.

Back to your bully boss. If you are confronted in any way whatsoever that falls short of treating you with anything but respect, even when you might be at fault, do not respond with disrespect. Breathe deeply and slowly whilst your boss is verbally attacking you, as this will help you to maintain calm. (However, if you are physically attacked by your boss or fear for your safety, remove yourself from the situation immediately and seek help from your HR Department, or someone who is senior to your boss, immediately. If you choose, you can also report any physical abuse to your local police and press criminal charges.)

Once your boss is finished with shouting and verbally attacking him, calmly ask if he/she is finished saying what he/she wanted to say. Then it is important that you let your boss know that in no way do you appreciate being shouted at or verbally attacked in the workplace. Whilst I realize this is a perfect response in a company that looks after their employees, some businesses are unfortunately not concerned with the way they treat their staff. A matter which I intend to take up on platforms that will reach a far wider and executive reach.

Here are some situations I have personally been involved in:

  1. I have been a chairperson in disciplinary hearings of managers who abused their positions, and were found guilty of sexual harassment. I had to terminate the services of managers found guilty of this misconduct. The employee also has the right to take criminal legal action apart from internal company proceedings. The sad reality is that this happens more often than one would think, and at all levels of management. Sadly, far too many cases are not reported, because employees are threatened with losing their jobs.
  2. I was fortunate to have a group of women come forward to me to inform me that their manager they reported to (junior to mid-management level), had told them if they did not partake in sexual favors with him, they would lose their jobs. This is a blatant abuse of power. I applaud anyone who comes forward and trusts in the process of making sure that one’s organization will take the appropriate action to investigate, and if found that the allegations are true, then to terminate the services of said perpetrator/s.
  3. Whilst in a senior position, I was shouted at by someone who was senior position to me, and I calmly responded by saying that when they had calmed down, they could come to my office when they were ready to apologize and continue the conversation in a professional manner. This did happen. I understand that this was easy for me to do because of my seniority within the organization, but it is to highlight that no matter who it is, you do not have to be treated with disrespect. And neither do you have the right to treat another with disrespect.

I have had some fantastic bosses, and some who had the IQ to do their job, but lacked in EQ. This made it very difficult to deal with them, but it was not impossible. It did make for some very tricky situations, but you always need to keep yourself in check. Be aware when you need to walk away from a situation.

Difficult bosses are a dime a dozen, but a lot of this can be put on organizations for not training or equipping their management on how to best deal with stressors in the workplace.

And please note, that this is NOT gender based. Both men and women alike can be bully bosses.

Humans are not robots. We all have emotions, stress levels, and at times, when things seem to be falling all around us, we can often just have an outburst – much like a pressure cooker. The key here is how quickly do you recover, and apologize to parties concerned, for your outburst?

If you are an employee being bullied by your boss, you can do something about it. You can talk to your HR Department, or if you feel comfortable enough, you can approach your boss directly and discuss the matter in person. Don’t allow yourself to be bullied for another day. Respect yourself enough to take back your dignity. You are entitled to dignity and respect.

If you identify yourself as a bully boss, be aware of what triggers you to react in this way, and then work on watching yourself like a hawk, and when you start feeling or acting in a way that is not respectful, take a step back, leave the situation, and address it when you have calmed down. It is never okay to treat anyone with disrespect.

Remember the golden rule:

Do unto others as you would have done unto you.