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Personal Finance > Five Tips
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Dealing with an abusive boss
5 Tips: How to make your workplace more pleasant.
October 15, 2004: 2:41 PM EDT
By Gerri Willis, CNN/Money contributing columnist

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - It's no secret that there are abusive bosses out there -- you know the type. Bullies with big job titles that make the people working for them miserable.

According to the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute, an abusive boss is more likely to be a woman than a man. That's right -- forget their nurturing image! Woman to woman bullying represents 50 percent of all workplace bullying; man to woman is 30 percent, man to man 12 percent and woman to man bullying is extremely rare -- only 8 percent.

What should you know if you're the victim of an abusive boss? Here are today's five tips.

1. Identify the behavior.

There are all kinds of abusive bosses. The Institute classifies them a few different ways.

There are the constant critics who use put-downs, insults and name-calling. They may use aggressive eye contact to intimidate.

There are also two-headed snakes who pretend to be nice, while all the while trying to sabotage you.

Then there are the gatekeepers -- people who are obsessed with control -- who allocate time, money and staffing to assure their target's failure. Control freaks ultimately want to control your ability to network in the company or to let your star shine.

Another type is the screaming Mimis who are emotionally out of control and explosive.

2. Don't take it lying down.

If your boss has a difficult management style, you don't have to let their bad behavior go. You can respond -- just remember to stay professional.

So, if your boss insults you or puts you down, Susan Futterman, author of "When You Work for a Bully" and the founder of MyToxicBoss.com, suggests responding with something like, "In what way does calling me a moron or an idiot solve the problem? I think that there's a better way to deal with this."

If you find out that your boss is bad-mouthing you to higher-ups in the company, confront them directly and professionally. Get the evidence in writing from your source if you can. Then, ask him or her what is causing them to do this.

You could say, "I've been hearing from other people in the company that you're not happy with my work, you and I know that this isn't the case and I want to talk about how we can fix this."

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CNNfn's Gerri Willis shares five tips on how to deal with an abusive boss.

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If your boss has been defaming you, that's illegal. You may want to consult an attorney.

If your boss is a control freak who's breathing down your neck, you should address it. Say, "I can't function effectively if you're going to be micromanaging me and looking over my shoulder all the time. If I'm doing something fundamentally wrong, let's talk about it. But this isn't working."

If someone screams at you, don't be a doormat. If you've made a mistake, acknowledge it. But let your boss know that they're creating a difficult work environment. Even if you haven't made a mistake, you may want to calmly ask what they're upset about and if you can address it.

3. Take notes.

Documenting your boss's bad behavior is key for two reasons, according to Futterman.

 

First, you might not even realize the extent of the problem. Futterman explains, "Taken in isolation, these events may seem trivial, but taken as a whole, it often becomes more clear what's actually going on. Some victims may be in denial or discount these events as isolated incidents. Your written records can document how severe the situation is."

And, of course, if you decide to take legal action down the line, you may need the information. It's best to document these incidents as soon as possible so they're fresh in your mind.

Documentation is also important if you plan to report the behavior to your boss's boss or to your company's human resources department. And don't dismiss the idea of taking the bull by the horns and working toward a solution.

Try arranging a face-to-face meeting with your boss. Tell them you want to discuss the problems you've encountered because you want to resolve them. Chances are often slim that this will work, however. If they reject the opportunity to discuss things with you, add that to your documentation.

4. Know when it's too much.

Bosses may exhibit bad behavior sometimes. Hey, no one is perfect, not even bosses. But if your boss is abusing you, that's a problem.

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The problem takes on greater urgency if the abuse starts to make you feel bad. If you chronically suffer high blood pressure that started only when you began working for your boss; or you feel nauseous the night before the start of the work week; or if all your paid vacation days have been used up for mental health breaks.

When the bullying has had a prolonged affect on your health or your life outside of work, it's time to get out. It's also time to leave if your confidence or your usual exemplary performance has been undermined.

Ironically, targets of abusive bosses tend to be high achievers, perfectionists and workaholics. Often bully bosses try to mask their own insecurities by striking out.

5. Control your destiny.

Even after you leave your nightmare boss, you'll still have to explain why you left to potential new employers.

Futterman advises against dramatizing your old work situation. One way to gracefully sidestep the issue: say you and your manager had a longstanding disagreement over the most effective way of getting things done and you thought the most professional way to resolve it was to move on.

"You certainly don't want to start recalling and recounting the abuse you suffered. You'll inevitably get upset and that's not the way you want to handle a job interview," she says.

Try to control the interview situation to the extent you can. Don't give your abusive boss as a reference but rather someone else with whom you worked previously. Another good choice might be a colleague or a peer you're on good terms with or someone who can speak about you professionally.

Also, if you only worked for your bullying boss for a short time, you may want to consider leaving that job off your resume altogether.


Gerri Willis is a personal finance editor for CNN Business News. Willis also hosts CNNfn's Open House, weekdays from Noon to 12:30 p.m. (ET). E-mail comments to 5tips@cnn.com.  Top of page




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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.