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7 Healthy Ways to Deal With a Boss Who’s a Bully
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AnnaMarie Houlis
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Journalist & travel blogger
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Your relationship with your boss doesn't have to be perfect. The reality is that, sometimes, you'll have to work for and with people with whom you wouldn't necessarily choose to spend your time. Perhaps you don't appreciate your boss' leadership style. Maybe you think your boss makes for a decent leader, but they have no interpersonal skills and there are characteristics you truly can't stand. Or maybe you even strongly dislike your boss as a leader and a person altogether.

That'll happen. The fact of the matter is that, sometimes, the real world means biting the bullet and putting in your time.

That said, there are boundaries. And, without feeling respected (or, worse, being discriminated against), you may not be able to do your job well or you may not be given the opportunities to perform like you know you can. In those cases, you may have to take matters into your hands and take action against a bad boss.

Not sure where to get started? Here's how to deal with a bad boss bully.

1. Have a private conversation with your boss.

If you're dealing with a boss who is a bully, you might want to consider having a private conversation with your boss in order to work out any issues at hand. While this might not be in the cards for everyone (as some bosses are difficult to get a hold of and/or may not be interested in entertaining a conversation with you), it's a solid place to start. 

One way to go about scheduling a private conversation with your boss is by emailing them so that you have your effort to communicate in writing. You'll want to ask them for a few minutes of their time (however long you think the meeting might last, but you should definitely do your best to keep it to well under an hour). Make sure to be respectful of your boss' time and give them some space to carve out a slot on their probably busy calendar and respond to you. While it's OK to follow up if you don't get a response after a few days, you don't want to force them or cause them to rush the meeting by squeezing it in last minute when it's actually super important to you.

Let your boss know in the email that you'd like to speak about the issue at hand and, if they're unaware of the issue at hand, let them know that you'd like to speak about whatever it is that's bothering you. This, again, puts your effort in writing should you need evidence of it down the line — and it may give them a sense of urgency in getting back to you and getting the conversation started. It'll also keep them from being blindsided and unable to be present and actively participate during the conversation in a prepared and helpful way.

2. Set boundaries for yourself.

It's important to set boundaries for yourself in the workplace with both other colleagues and even your boss. Boundaries are one way for others to show respect, like your boss. Set boundaries like you don't check emails on weekends or you're not on call after hours (unless, of course, this is in your contract or the matter is urgent and you're needed, in which case you should have a protocol put in place for emergency situations). By drawing these lines, others have a better understanding of your work rhythm and can better respect you. After all, your boss might not know that you feel taken advantage of because you haven't set a clear precedent for yourself.

3. Set clear expectations for your work.

Clear expectations for your work are key to your success. After all, studies show that women don't receive nearly as constructive feedback as men do during performance reviews, which some researchers believe perpetuate subtle sexism in the workplace. By setting clear expectations upfront — and by having that job description delineating those expectations in writing — you have something palpable to compare your performance against and prove your value to the company. If, for example, you're expected to reach a certain sales goal by the end of the first quarter, you should have that in writing so that you can show your numbers at the end of the first quarter and compare them against the set expectation that leaves no gray areas for your boss. If you don't hit those goals, your boss can then offer you more constructive advice that's actually helpful in your improvement.

4. Talk to your human resources department.

If you're unable to communicate with your boss — at all or in a way that resonates with them — it might be time to take your concerns to the human resources department at your company. They may call both you and your boss into a meeting to try to mediate the situation at hand, or they may assess the situation and pursue a replacement for your boss if your boss has broken company policies and they deem it necessary. Whatever the case, it's the human resource department's job to intervene and solve these issues in the workplace.

5. File a complaint with the EEOC.

If your boss is exhibiting discrimination at work or breaking the law in another way, you might want to consider filing a complaint with the EEOC. Learn more about whether or not your issue should be elevated to the EEOC here, as well as how to file a complaint with the EEOC here.

6. Start looking for a new job.

While you might not want to bear the burden of getting back out there on the job market, looking for a new job might be a good idea. Working in a toxic environment can take a toll on your health and, ultimately, affect your motivation, productivity and overall career. If you've stuck with it long enough, and nothing seems to be getting any better, removing yourself from that kind of culture is probably wise.

7. Quit immediately.

Of course, you'll likely want to play it safe by searching for a new job before you quit your current job. But, sometimes, you need to look out for yourself and your mental health takes precedence over your paycheck. Despite how scary this leap may be, you're not alone — tons of women have quit their jobs before finding new work. Don't believe us? Hear it from them directly!

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.

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