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Survival Tips

May 10, 1999|SUSAN VAUGHN

Working for a Bellicose Boss? Not sure how to handle your boss' roller-coaster emotions? Here are some tips from experts about how to keep your cool (while that resume is being circulated).

1. Look beneath the bad behaviors. Ask yourself what really may be causing your boss to act so erratically, suggests Erik van Slyke, author of "Listening to Conflict" (Amacom, 1999). People tend to regress when they are struggling with inner turmoil or feel vulnerable or threatened.

2. Don't take it personally. It's probably not about you. When your boss verbally attacks you or overreacts to small work problems, it's likely he or she is struggling with older, deeper unresolved personal conflicts.

3. When your boss insults or screams at you, don't attack back. Instead, use "I" statements to respond to his or her challenges. For example, say "I feel upset by what you've just said about me" or "I felt humiliated when you called me names in front of my co-workers." Keep the complaints specific and work-focused.

4. Don't expect a grown-up reaction. Fantasize that you are a parent addressing a very large child who will probably react defensively to even your gentlest criticism. Remind yourself that your boss is probably not aware of how his or her behavior is affecting you.

5. Document, document, document. Keep a diary of your boss' inappropriate behaviors and comments. Log each time you confer with your boss about these difficulties. Have others in your office corroborate the episodes. In extreme cases, put your concerns to your boss in writing, and keep copies.

6. If all else fails, develop an "exit strategy," says Van Slyke. Come up with alternative plans (for example, reporting the problems to human resources or your boss' boss, having a group discussion with the boss or leaving the firm). That way, if your boss doesn't change--or even augments his or her bad behaviors--you won't feel trapped.

7. Most important of all, don't let the bullying continue. Accepting your boss' attacks makes you a participant, not a victim. You have options. You don't deserve to be abused. Take action to help yourself right away.

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