Ever felt intimidated by your boss?

Last week I went to see the movie Bombshell. It’s a true story about two smart, ambitious TV anchor women that make sexual harassment allegations against their boss, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes.

Watching these women reminded me of my first job working at an advertising agency in the early 1980’s. I landed the role of TV production assistant, and although that might sound glamorous, it was basically creating talent contracts, but I did get to go on all the TV commercial shoots.

My TV producer, my boss was hostile and so condescending that I’d retreat into the bathroom and cry. I was at a loss with what to do as she was so highly respected in the organisation. Maybe my youth and looks threatened her, I don’t know, but I lasted a year. They say you don’t quit jobs, you quit bosses, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Dealing with an intimidating boss is a topic I’d like to explore with you because last year a young woman come to me with a similar experience. NB for writing purposes, I’m going to stick to one gender and use “he” when referring to a boss.

So let’s start …

Intimidation in the workplace can create a working environment that’s toxic for everyone. I’m using the term intimidation, but you’ve probably heard of the term workplace bullying.

intimidating bossIn 2010, the Productivity Commission found that bullying at work costs Australian organisations between $6 billion and $36 billion a year in lost productivity.

Of those bullied, 40 per cent of people experienced workplace bullying early in their career and between 5 and 7 per cent had been bullied in the previous six months, a study, by the University of Wollongong found.

It describes a manager, co-worker or superior’s pattern of manipulative behaviour, with sometimes-verbal abuse or physical harassment. Ridiculing you in front of co-workers, finding fault with your work, setting you unrealistic deadlines or tasks, sabotaging your work or taking credit are also forms of intimidation. These tactics are used because you have less status, and of course power in the workplace.

The reasons for a superior or boss to act this way are varied. It could be to demand more respect or to exert their authority. A boss may feel it’s the right method or effect to motivate employees, or simply they like to get things done that way. However, they look to the company for leadership, but are not leaders. I think it’s worth remembering when you seek to understand your boss. He brings into the office a managing style based on his beliefs, dislikes, preferences and style.

Therefore, learning how to deal with his terrifying or frustrating day to day antics is how you’ll survive and stay in your job.

Here are five tips to think about and try: –

  1. It’s not all in your head

Acknowledge it’s really happening. Sometimes we can dismiss his behaviour and believe it’s just a clash of personality types. This can create self doubt that it’s really all my fault. Understand that it’s not about you. His verbal insults and power games are being directed at you, but they are not about you and do not define you. Remember only you can define yourself.

One of the easiest ways to tell if you feel intimidated is to note how isolated you feel. An intimidating boss is not interested in building a strong working relationship with you and the team, and will generally keep to himself, guarded and reserved.

  1. Find some common ground

As mentioned, an intimidating boss is not interested in communicating effectively with you. It’s up to you to build a bridge and establish some common ground no matter how small. Try to find something you both agree on. Maybe it’s some company policy or if you feel safe to connect with him on a more personal level then try sports or hobbies. My TV producer loved handbags so when I returned from a trip to Italy, I bought her a little purse/handbag from Rome.

  1. Be Indispensable

Your boss will see you in a different light when you come up with great ways to make him shine. Of course it’s the last thing you may want to do. I’m sure you’d rather put arsenic in his coffee. But if your boss lacks attention to detail, is forgetful or messy, or has poor time management skills then find ways to help him be on top of his game.

My TV Producer was a night owl so I’d never scheduled meetings for her before 10am. I knew she’d always be late and look unprofessional (plus she’d be grumpy all day and take it out on me).

  1. Improve Your Mindset

The key is to be mentally and physically robust. Anticipate his every move. Know when he’s more approachable (to get what you need from him to do your job effectively), and when to step back and be invisible. Over time you’ll see his pattern of behaviour or cycles. The trick is to keep a positive mindset i.e. to focus on the good and positive of the situation and to remain hopeful even if you encounter setbacks. To keep a positive mind you might like to use affirmations, or thoughts or images to envision a better day ahead.

  1. Find Your Voice

In the early nineties, I worked for a prestigious jewellery house in London. It was a true male bastion and the sales team liked to tease me (a bit). The blonde, blue eyed Aussie chick with a funny accent. A few tongue in cheek remarks about being the weaker sex etc. I laughed along, but then it went on and on, and stopped being funny.

One day I shut the door to my boss’s office and told him a few things. Knowing that his bark was worse than his bite (and that I had 6 months left on my visa, meant I had nothing to lose). He was apologetic and we created a much better working environment for the remainder of my stay.

Finding your voice starts with self belief. Acknowledging that you are worth something. Self-belief is such an important quality to have, as without the ability to believe in your own worth and actions, you may feel you have less bargaining power and worry about the longevity of your position.

I decided to speak to my boss informally, but you may prefer the support of the companies’ HR department or someone in your team to act as a sounding board. Whilst we live in an age where there’s still workplace bullying, the recent #Metoo Movement forces employers to take these matters seriously.

If you feel your company culture thrives on productivity through competition and conflict and this sits poorly with you, then I suggest looking to another department or company that values and cares for their employees so you feel good about coming to work each day.

I hope these five tips, and my personal experiences will encourage and empower you to confidently deal with any difficult boss.

Blog image by Canva

stuck in a rut revised editionFiona Craig is an NLP practitioner & life coach, psychotherapist, business mentor, and published author of the award winning self-help book, “Stuck in a Rut – How to rescue yourself & live your truth” helping women remove the fear, worry and guilt to confidently take the steps towards creating the life they want to live.

Fiona has been interviewed by The Australian Women’s Weekly, Women’s Fitness Magazine and The New Daily and written articles for Collective Magazine, Herald Sun Melbourne, Sunday Life Magazine, Career One, I Am Woman Magazine, plus Mouths Of Mums and other online publications. You can learn more about working with Fiona at www.lifebalancecoach.com.au or call 0405 433 217.