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How do I cope with a mean boss?

Dear Nancy,

To say I have a mean boss would be an understatement. She is the most difficult person I've ever had to work with. Nothing I do is right. She never explains to me what she wants or how she wants it done. She only calls to yell at me for either not asking questions and doing it wrong or asking "too many" questions because she doesn't have time to teach me.

Her first reaction is to yell no matter if I do something wrong or right. She never says thank you and makes me feel extremely small, when I've done nothing to deserve it.

Even though I did internships throughout college and high school, this is my first full time job. I was so excited to start and really wanted to make a good impression. I get along fine with everyone else, but when I have to deal with her directly, I end up in tears. I really do love this company and want to stay, but no one has ever treated me this badly and I don’t know how to handle it. Please help me!

Thank you,

- In Tears in New York

Dear In Tears,

First and foremost, I wish I could give you a big hug and tell you how sorry I am that you are having such a terrible experience…and on your first full time job! In a perfect world, we would all feel embraced and empowered by our new bosses and co-workers, but alas, reality often deals us a different hand, and how we play it can make all the difference.

No doubt there’s an explanation for your boss’s behavior, but that’s not your problem – it’s hers and most likely has nothing to do with you. You can’t change her, but you can change how you relate to her.

Although I understand how you’re feeling and sympathize, now is the time to put on your big girl pants and handle this situation like the professional you are becoming. Be strategic!

You have options, so take a few deep breaths, get centered and let’s get started:

  1. Be proactive and ask for her advice about the best way to work with her. How did she handle her first job? How can you be of real value to her and the company?

  2. Be kind – be strong – be collaborative, not confrontational.

  3. You are probably not the only person she has lashed out at, so if the direct approach doesn’t work, make an appointment to discuss the situation with the appropriate person in HR. You are looking for advice on how to handle a challenging situation – not complaining about your boss. Chances are they are already aware of this issue. If not, you have taken the responsible approach to resolving it.

Recently, I learned a valuable lesson from a big, beautiful rescue cat we adopted. We named him Barney. We were concerned about how our cat Ozzy would react. Having introduced new cats into our home before, we were ready for the requisite hissing and spraying for turf that often happens. But even though Barney was a lot younger, he seemed more mature is his behavior. He walked in, took his time familiarizing himself with his new environment, was cautious…respectful. Ozzy hissed a lot when he discovered the new cat, but Barney didn’t engage, he acknowledged him then went about his business of discovery and gave Ozzy nothing to react to--somehow letting him know he was not a threat. Within three days they were eating and playing together.

Grey cat in a bowl
Nancy's diplomatic rescue cat, Barney.

Some people behave like cats when they perceive a threat –-they hiss, they spit, they spray for turf. So, "Be Like Barney” and take the high road with your boss. Be respectful, but don’t let her push your buttons. She can only make you feel small if you let her.

Sending you a cyber hug!


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