7 Strategies For Fighting Back When Your Boss Publicly Shames You

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k
April 21, 2024 at 3:2AM UTC

“I felt publicly shamed by my boss,” an FGBer recently wrote in the community forums

They went on to describe how their boss called them out in a meeting, asking why their project had “issues” and questioning their approach. 

“The spotlight was on me for 15 minutes in a room with other colleagues, and it felt like she was being accusatory that my approach led to the problems in my project,” they explained. “However, it was a misalignment on the leadership level. My direct manager may not have aligned with my boss, causing her to be confused….I didn’t feel that her approach was appropriate and should have been handled privately as I felt uncomfortable being called on the spot….I have seen her do this line of questioning with others making others feel uncomfortable, nervous, and doubtful of their own skills.

“I feel that it is my manager’s responsibility to align with my boss, but should I go out of my way to align with my boss to ensure nothing like this happens again? My boss has left a bad taste in my mouth. I already had imposter syndrome coming into this job. How do I not let this bother my self-esteem?”

Other members of the Fairygodboss community chimed in to share their thoughts.

1. Have a candid conversation with your boss.

Many FGBers agreed that having a private conversation with your boss is the best way to address the situation.

“Don't assume that they ‘should’ know how you want to be treated,” Holly W. Lewis wrote. “Approach it from a curiosity perspective and ask what can be done to make the next meeting more productive for all of you.”

It’s also important to regularly keep your boss updated, Sarah Larson added. If you have a trusting relationship with your boss, explain how you plan to keep her updated so it doesn’t happen again,” they wrote. “Tell her how she made you feel. Explain that you’re concerned that if she continues to act this way she will create a negative reputation for your team which will cause a whole slew of repercussions.”

“Request a 1:1 meeting,” Valentina Huang agreed. “Discuss what recently happened at the team meeting and how you did not appreciate how it was handled. If there in fact issues and you are the project manager (regardless of it was your error), take ownership. Explain what happened and next steps on how to make sure this issue is either rectified and/or will not happen again.”

2. Get on the same page.

It’s not enough to simply have the meeting, though. It’s also important to get on the same page.

“It's simple,” Beverly Ruyle said. “[Your manager] wasn't prepared. Next time there is a meeting, arrange a pre-meeting with her to download the information and to make sure you are both on the same page. This way you both avoid the hot seat.”

Tami Cannizzaro wrote, “If your boss doesn't have a firm grip on the details her boss is asking questions about, then she's nervous and is going to ask a ton of questions of you. Which may come across as shaming. More than likely, she's desperately trying to be prepared for her boss….Feed her a constant stream of information. Anticipate what she'll need and make sure you get it to her before she knows she needs it, so when her boss asks about the project, she feels ready.”

3. Document your efforts.

Shelby Chiles urged the original poster to document their work and efforts. This is important for anyone who encounters issues at work, particularly if you’re considering taking future action and steps to rectify the problem. This will also demonstrate that you’re taking this seriously to your boss and are fully on top of the situation, plus serve as evidence of the problems you're having with them.

4. Be prepared.

“My solution would be to just be ready at all times to defend my work,” wrote Kailyn James. “If your boss has done that to others, it’s quite possible that even if it’s brought to their attention, it probably won’t change. If you can defend your work, they’ll have NOTHING to say. I take more of a ‘stay ready so you don’t have to get ready’ approach.”

What preparation looks like depends on your role, the business and other factors. Hone a strategy that works best for you so you’re not caught off guard in the future — and neither is your boss.

5. Go to HR.

Many businesses have measures in place for curbing this type of behavior. And your HR department is often the place where you can start addressing it. One FGBer said that they had brought their concerns to HR, with success.

Of course, HR departments function differently at different organizations. In some cases, they will help and support you, but that won’t always be the case. Still, it’s a good way to document what’s happened, and you may need to take this step before taking future action.

6. Don’t take it personally.

“Don't doubt yourself,” one FGBer wrote. “You are not defined by your job or one person's poor management skills. Life is too short to feel limited by these petty, trivial moments. And believe me, I internally roll my eye so hard on a daily basis it is a physical workout. Eventually, she will 'promote' far and away from my sphere. Until then, I take the money and benefits gladly, and her not that seriously.”

“This is on her, not you,” another agreed. “I think you realize this, but you also feel demoralized and a bit threatened by her style. I get it....My first piece of advice is to not take ANY of this personally; someone might have been having a bad day and came to the meeting unprepared and jumped your case without good reason. Let it slide.  If it becomes a pattern over time, you can put stops in place.”

7. Have an exit strategy (if worse comes to worst).

Often, you’ll be able to work things out with your boss and at least find a way to make your interactions tolerable. But that’s not always the case. If you find, after you’ve spent a fair amount of time in the role, that your manager is frequently shaming or disparaging you in public or private, you need to take care of yourself, first. 

To that end, consider developing an exit strategy, one that will allow you to gracefully leave the employer and move into a role that’s better suited for you, where your manager respects you. While this is usually a last resort, sometimes, it’s the best option for you.

What's your no. 1 piece of advice for when your boss publically shames you? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss'ers!

About the Career Expert:

 Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket and The Haven.

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