My boss is making my life miserable. He jumps down my throat if I make the smallest mistake. He criticizes me in front of co-workers and customers. He thinks nothing of yelling at me and calling me “stupid” and “incompetent”. And it’s not like I’m a screw-up. I do a really good job, but I’m only human, and now and then I do make an error. I don’t deserve to be treated like this. The worst part is, upper management knows what he’s like and they allow it because he’s a top producer. I’d like to quit, but I’d hate to abandon my co-workers who would be stuck doing my work and taking all of his abuse. How can I get him to stop?
A.The bad news is, you probably can’t. Your boss is a bully and bullies have learned somewhere along the line that if they hurt or humiliate others, they can have their way. But let’s give it a try. You’ll need to meet with him and be very frank and direct. Don’t be scared. Keep reminding yourself that you’re a grown up and you don’t need to be intimidated by a mean little kid. But be prepared. Beforehand, write down what you want to say. Keep it short, simple, and factual: “When you raised your voice to me and called me ‘an idiot’ in front of Mr. Jones, I felt embarrassed and disrespected. Please speak to me quietly and civilly from now on.” When you meet with him, deliver your prepared message verbatim. Don’t ramble or explain. Then be quiet and wait. If he agrees, thank him and leave. (Don’t expect a huge apology and don’t stick around to lecture or gloat. Do be prepared to remind him of his agreement, as he will inevitably forget from time to time.) If he gets upset, let him vent. Wait patiently until he’s finished, and then calmly repeat your message. Do this a couple of times, if necessary. If he won’t agree to be more respectful, thank him for his time, politely leave the office, and give it a day or two. (Sometimes, people need a little “turnaround time” to process a criticism before they can respond in a non-defensive way.) No matter what the outcome, immediately document exactly what happened in the meeting. If the abuse continues, try appealing to upper management or Human Resources, and take your documentation with you. But if that doesn’t work, start looking for another job. Life is too short to get beat up by a bully every day. And if you do leave, make your reason for leaving absolutely clear in your exit interview. Your departure may inspire management to take action. And that may be the best way to help your co-workers.