I often talk about the importance of standing up for yourself when others are treating you poorly. It’s important to stand up at home, with your friends, your children and, yes, even with your boss. People often struggle, however, with standing up to their boss. They think that what their boss says or does is somehow off limits. They worry that if they do speak up, they’ll get fired. Many people believe they have to take whatever their boss throws at them.
In my experience, the more poor treatment people take from their boss, the more poorly their boss will treat them. Just because your boss is in a higher position than you at work does not mean they have the right to treat you poorly. It means they are in a higher position—that’s it. That position never gives them the right to be disrespectful or — at the extreme end — verbally abusive.
Basic respect is about basic humanity. Everyone deserves basic respect. Your boss has the right to give you critical feedback, give you directives to complete, supervise your work, tell you when they are unhappy about something you’ve done, put you on suspension and even fire you. S/he does NOT have the right to yell, scream, intimidate, belittle or shame you in public or private.
I’ve heard many stories about bosses raging in meetings or getting in their employees’ faces and berating them for mistakes or even shaming employees in front of others. This kind of outrageous behavior is abusive. If this is happening in your place of work, don’t silently take it. Your silence will lead to resentment and will chip away at your sense of self-worth.
If your boss is being disrespectful or abusive, address the behavior directly and in the moment. If there are a lot of people around and you don’t feel comfortable doing it with an audience, request that your boss speak with you immediately following the incident. For example, “Mr. Jones, I’d like to speak with you about the meeting today. Can we please schedule 15 minutes to do that?”
Once you are sitting down with your boss, own your mistake, if you were wrong, state the behavior you didn’t like and ask for what you want now and/or in the future. Be sure to be clear, to the point and specific about what you want: “Mr. Jones, I apologize for not proofreading the document I handed you. I will not make that same mistake again. I want you to know, however, that the way you gave me that feedback did not feel okay for me. I do not like to be yelled at anywhere in my life—work included. I would like for you to discuss things with me in private and to do so in a respectful tone. Are you willing to do this?”
After you have spoken, the ball is in your boss’s court. Pay attention to how they respond. If they become angry, then it’s likely that you do not have a “workable” situation. If they stay calm, hear you out and apologize, then there’s hope. Either way, their reaction is data for you. If they get angrier, I would try to set limits a couple more times to see if they’re open to taking your feedback in. If you hit the same result every time, I would start planning my exit.
Working with an abusive boss is not a healthy move for you. Look for a more rewarding work environment and be smart about how you exit. Look for jobs outside of work hours, save your money, build your skills and love yourself enough to get yourself into a healthy environment.
CHALLENGE: You deserve to be treated well by all people, at all times—even by your boss. If your boss is demeaning, disrespectful or verbally abusive toward you, you have the right to stand up for yourself. Get clear with yourself that you have that right and then get clear with your boss. Pay attention to what happens as a result. Make sure you are respectful on your end.