Hostile Boss? Take Him On!

Have you ever had a boss who shamed or intimidated you?  It's probaby pretty hard to get through a career without at least one.  I had mine back in my 30s, and to this day, his name can usher up feelings of powerlessness and anger.

I never retaliated in any way (remember, I'm a good girl), but now a new study is saying that, if you have a boss who is hostile to you, your best bet is to fight him back, which, of course goes against just about any advice usually given by recruiters and job coaches.

Only once in my life did I have a boss who just didn't like me.  I suppose I brought it on myself, even though I thought I was doing the right thing.  I was not long out of college (and a little wet behind the ears, I admit), but when I was working for a major corporation (with rigid protocols), I asked my boss' boss if he had any work I could do because I was sitting idle.

The only problem was the manager sandwiched in between us -- my immediate boss.  Now, granted, today, I'd have realized that what the top boss might surmise is that the manager under him wasn't managing me appropriately, and that's exactly what happened.

Unfortunately for me, my immediate boss was a very insecure man who already didn't feel very good about himself, and his leadership, so this just added fuel to the fire.  The rest of my career under him consisted of power lunches that didn't include me, assignments that ran well past quitting time  that I didn't dare leave to the next day (I, who came in around 7 a.m. and usually left by 2 or 3 p.m.!), and meetings I dreaded because I knew I'd be singled out for some negative mention about something. Not to mention the non-forthcoming raises.

Like anything in life, this, too passed and the irony is that we both left the company at the same time and happened to be hanging out at a bar together with colleagues, and he couldn't have been more charming, even to me.  I, of course, was polite back, as I was in my job, but this new study says I'd've been better off if I had sassed him back.

The study says, to the surprise of researchers, that employees who had hostile bosses were better off in several ways if they returned the hostility.

The study found that employees felt less like victims when they retaliated against their bad bosses and as a result experienced less psychological distress, more job satisfaction and more commitment to their employer.  I broke out in a rash after a particularly bad week.
“Before we did this study, I thought there would be no upside to employees who retaliated against their bosses, but that’s not what we found,” says Bennett Tepper, lead author of the study and professor of management and human resources at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. “The best situation is certainly when there is no hostility. But if your boss is hostile, there appear to be benefits to reciprocating. Employees felt better about themselves because they didn’t just sit back and take the abuse.”
Hostile bosses were ones who did things like yell at, ridicule and intimidate their workers. Score one for me.
Employees who returned hostility did it by ignoring their boss, acting like they didn’t know what their bosses were talking about, and giving just half-hearted effort.
“These are things that bosses don’t like and that fit the definition of hostility, but in a passive-aggressive form,” Tepper said. “I expect that you don’t have too many employees yelling and screaming at their bosses.”
Now passive-agressive behavior I know all about. (Just ask my husband.)
Of course, fighting against your boss may seem like a risky career move. “In a second study, we wanted to see if employees who retaliated against their bosses also reported that their career was damaged by their actions,” Tepper said. “But in our survey anyway, employees didn’t believe their actions hurt their career.
Even so, I probably wouldn't have risked it, which is ironic because I fight with everybody these days -- a company that talked me into buying thousands of dollars in (unneeded) insurance for my computer after I was hacked (they gave it back) or a roofer who didn't stop my ceiling from leaking, twice, after he finished the job.
Sometimes, I lose.  But it feels good to fight, and get back, if not exactly retribution, at least some dignity. .  


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