Mid-Manager Case Study: Verbal Abuse

If you are now, or ever have been, a mid-level manager the person between the boss and line staff, then you probably also know how to walk on a tightrope or dance on hot coals. You certainly didn t get that training before you took the position; only by practice have you learned how to walk in the middle of organizational politics and deal with problems from at least two sides.

Major components of your position include being required to preach the company line and demonstrate to staff members the proper attitude and demeanor. Second, you re the voice for staff problems and issues and must send them up the chain of command when beyond the scope of your authority.

Everyone has a boss, and, depending on the type of boss you have, you re either enjoying your position or under some stress. The real key is what kind of boss you have. As is often the case, additional problems arise when their management style doesn t match yours.

The question this week: How do you handle an abusive boss who verbally attacks you and the rest of your employees? This is the kind of boss who has little regard for your employees and who, through their paranoia, is constantly seeking retaliation against the employees or you. Have you worked for a boss who required strict loyalty to the organization but didn t support the employees or other management staff? How about a boss who thought anyone who sought other employment or criticized the organization was disruptive and thus deserved to be ostracized?

Here are a few tips that may help you deal with a verbally abusive boss. Remember, there s no one way to deal with an abusive boss; each bad boss and situation is different, and it s up to you to figure out what works best in your situation.

First, get your emotions in check and decide what approach may work. If your boss has displayed anger toward you, it ll be unsettling, and it takes a great deal of control to not respond in the same manner. In most cases, remaining calm and not getting into a shouting match shifts the control of the encounter to your side. You may need to give the situation time to let things cool down.

Sometimes, just let it go. Not every encounter with an abusive boss requires you to take action. In some cases, you need to just listen and move on. If the situation is an on-going process that occurs frequently, then it needs to be addressed.

Confront them and address their behavior. Often bosses are bullies dressed in a suit or uniform. Stand up and let them know that being verbally abusive or out of control is unacceptable and that you want to address the real problems. It s important to stay calm and keep your emotions in check. Asking such probing questions as, What s the real problem or issue? can work to quiet the situation and help reveal solutions. Initially, this approach may escalate their bad behavior, and you ll be tested to remain calm. If significant problems exist, you may want to address only a few problems at a time and work to develop a process to address other problems later.

Document the issue. Problems in an organization are often overlooked for years because no one takes the time to document an incident or concerns in a formal manner. If you or your employees have been treated unfairly by being cussed out in public or by constant verbal abuse from your boss, it needs to be documented. Most organizations don t have a process in place for dealing with an abusive boss, so your actions should comply with procedures for dealing with problem coworkers.

Stay positive about the organization. In discussions with your boss, it s important that you continue to support the organization and the people who work there. Try to turn their negative viewpoints away from an attack on you or your employees and toward the real target.

Decide your quality of life. If working in this situation has created consequences in your personal life, you need to decide if continuing to work there is in your best interests. It s estimated that the No. 1 reason people leave their employment is related to working for a bad boss, so you may be leaving one negative situation for another. If you do decide to seek employment elsewhere, look quietly and don t advertise it. I ve heard numerous examples of bad bosses who found out about someone seeking other employment and took steps to remove the employee from their current job to hurt their job search.

Avoid contributing to a media circus. Occasionally, problems with bad bosses get aired in the media. Employees who think they ve been wronged will raise the issue publicly. Local reporters in your community are always looking for a controversy about public service agencies and will contact as many members as want to make a comment. Although it may feel good initially to speak out, it only makes the organization look bad. It doesn t help your credibility to publicly get into the issue.

Verbal abuse in your organization can increase turnover rates, decrease productivity and increase rates of absenteeism. In some cases, it could lead to a lawsuit for problems in a hostile workplace. Your staff has the right to expect to be treated respectfully and not be verbally abused at work. Standing up for them and yourself may not be easy in the face of dealing with an abusive boss but it s the right thing to do.