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Managing and Dealing with an Aggressive Boss

Aug 17, 2007
It is tough having to deal with someone who abuses you and even more so when the person has extra authoritative power then you.

If the verbal and other forms of mental abuse begin to get really serious and even approach physical abuse, then the issue can become legal. I have heard that people are trying to pass legislation in an American state that disallows workplace abuse. However, unfortunately just about all laws do not take into account verbal workplace conflict so you've got to learn how to handle bullies by yourself for your own happiness and well-being.

Most people who lack the communication skills to deal with a bad boss either:

1. Endure the bullying and intimidation in fear thinking their job is at risk if they address their boss about the problem.

2. Face their boss about the problem but do so incorrectly. It's quite common for the problem to then intensify.

Enduring the Bullying

The absolute last thing you want to do when being abused by anyone is accept the abuse.

You have got to stick up for yourself in an assertive manner otherwise your confidence, happiness, and in this situation, your work will suffer. People who receive aggressive behavior that is not correctly handled have been known to develop serious physical problems such as strokes, heart attacks, suicide, migraines, escalated stress levels, insomnia, and terrifying nightmares. One person who will remain anonymous often dreamt her boss pointing a gun at employees so they would complete their work.

The first listed reaction to a bullying boss is a passive response. You forgo your own person needs while your boss happily tramples over you.

The most common reason for accepting intimidation from others is the fear of repercussions if you stick up for yourself. In a work situation and especially with someone who has authoritative power, you probably do not defend yourself in fear of losing your job. This fear I believe is real because when most people stick up for themselves, they do so in an aggressive manner causing negative results which you'll soon see more about below.

These passive people forgo their own needs, are dominated by others, and live in massive amounts of frustration as their anger is bottled up inside. They do not have the effective communication skills to address the problem thinking they must accept what happens and live with the intimidation hoping the abusive person stops bullying.

It's a win for the bully and a loss for you.

Bullying the Bully - Poorly Addressing the Problem

The second listed reaction but not limited to a bullying boss is an aggressive response. These people usually have more confidence then the passive lot and are willing to defend themselves. They see that in order to get what they want they must retaliate. It becomes fire against fire. A fight starts as the two of you take to a verbal boxing ring mentally beating out each others minds.

People may become aggressive for several reasons:

- They were abused by their parents at an early age and placed under emotional trauma.

- They are mentally ill. I'm not referring to a jokingly mental illness but someone who has a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or a personality disorder.

- They think the only way to stop someone else's abusive behavior is to abuse them back.

- The aggression is a release of anger often caused from responding passively like the first situation. This type of behavior is otherwise known as passive-aggressive behavior where the person is frequently passive but randomly explodes their frustration and anger onto others. After the occasional and often unexpected outburst, the person sinks back to his/her passive behavior.

- The person is experiencing high pressure creating stress and then aggression. This type of aggressive behavior is common in work environments.

- An aggressive boss maybe trying to prove his toughness, control, discipline, or results-focus to superiors through his/her behavior.

- While aggression in the workplace may create the necessary level of productivity, it is strongly related to a high turnover rate said to be an average of 1.5 years and other commitment problems such as increased days off and loss of passion in the employee towards work. It can create unproductive employees as they "hide" by staying under the radar seeking to comply yet they do nothing that stands out that could potentially bring them attention.

The aggressive communication being exchanged between two people becomes a loss for them both.

Techniques to Deal with a Bad Boss

So the question remains, how do I face an abusive boss in an assertive manner?

Depending on the situation, occasional aggressive behavior can be definitely welcomed. In order for the aggressive behavior to be successful it must be expressed appropriately and constructively. You could even say this constructive type of aggression is like assertive communication which must be your goal if you are to not respond passively like the first situation and aggressively like the second situation.

There are several assertive communication techniques you can use to stop the bullying, stop your fear, build your self-confidence, and actually create a nice working relationship with your boss. This is the power of assertive skills.

Before approaching your boss about the problem, ask yourself "What can I change in my behavior to solve the aggression?" What you are doing is owning your behavior and not blaming your boss for what you have control over. It creates personal responsibility within you and helps prevent you from blaming your problems on your boss. Sometimes analyzing yourself and solving the problem may actually stop the aggression.

You need to be calm but at the same time responsive. Once you do this first step, you will almost completely remove your aggressive communication which can also help reduce your boss' aggressive communication. Fire needs some sort of fuel to stay alight and what you are doing by being calm but responsive is you are removing psychological fuel from your boss' aggressive fire. Being calm isn't enough as it can show that you're ignoring your boss. Only being calm and not responsive hurts in showing empathy and diffusing the boss's emotions. You do not want to ignore an angry boss!

Have the right mindset of resolving the problem at hand. When faced with a difficult person it is easy to want to be only right. Acknowledge that you may need to comprise yourself to progress forward with this problem. Drop your pride and be the first one to step forward towards problem resolution.

Now that you've learned these techniques it's time to approach your boss. You need to find the best time to address your boss. Do not try and solve this problem in a high emotional situation. You may need to wait till the end of the day or even end of the week until you think you can approach your boss.

What you are doing by asking for their point of view first, you are able to see things through their perception which may give you a whole new side to the story. It will help you understand and even help your boss understand why he is aggressive. Your boss will begin to feel understood by you when you actively listen which can lead to a tonne of great things such as him feeling your empathy, knowing you care, having less intense emotions, and be more willing to change. By practicing good listening skills you are using the secret of persuasion.

After your boss has made suggestions, you can then give your ideas to solve the problem. Keep calm and stay focused on resolving the problem. Ask for your boss's feedback as you suggest ideas. You are making it a joint solution which will give both of you a greater total level of satisfaction.

As you are talking, take note of the positive points your boss does show in his behavior and compliment him on these. You are attempting to keep the conversation positive as solving a problem can seem negative even though it is actually good that you are trying to remove the problem!

Using these techniques to communicate assertively will reduce your boss' aggressive behavior. You will no longer have an unproductive and unhappy working relationship. You'll develop a more productive and possibly joyful working relationship for your own good and your organization's good. Who would have thought you could have an enjoyable relationship with an aggressive boss.
About the Author
Joshua Uebergang writes a newsletter on non-verbal & verbal effective communication which you can sign-up to and get a communication skills report. To develop more assertion, check out the assertive communication skills section at the site or assertive behavioral skills at the blog.
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