By Francis Wade
Thursday, February 13, 2014.
You are in a tough spot. Your boss,
whom you thought of as a nice person, has turned into a monster as evidenced by
his or her terrible behaviour towards another employee.
How do you prepare for an inevitable showdown in which you are the next
Abusive managers don't just spring up overnight. Instead, they send off
early warning signs that are clear to all who choose to see for themselves.
They shout at employees, reducing them to tears. Or, they break promises
of bonuses, letting employees discover the fact in their next pay cheque. Or,
they spread rumours and half-truths when their subjects of criticism aren't
nearby, never confronting them directly.
Their actions are no different from those of plantation overseers who
also used bullying tactics to get their own way.
These days, you might understand why. They are playing out their own
psychological issues in the workplace, with their subordinates as the unwilling
audience in a larger-than-life, but very real drama.
Initially, as you watch the action unfold and other people fall victim,
you may ask yourself, "Will that ever happen to me?"
Many of us believe that we're safe. We tell ourselves that the shouting,
lying or backstabbing that has happened to someone else won't ever be directed
at us. Our reasons lull us into a sense of complacency that is based on denial
- a lie. Finally, we convince ourselves that we have no other choice: quitting
is not an option in these recessionary times.
Instead of being terminally stuck and giving up, what's a better course
of action to take?
Stop the denial
My experience with local companies reveals that abuse is rampant, and
even sometimes encouraged.
Managers who realise that their actions cause emotional pain seem to be
trapped in an old, historical paradigm. They refuse to take responsibility or
attempt a change in behaviour, unable and unwilling to treat employees as
To gauge the depth of this reality, observe how few of us are willing to
treat helpers as 'equals'.
Abuse doesn't go away if it's ignored, and it's a very safe bet that
your manager's worst behaviour will one day be directed at you. It's not
personal, so don't fool yourself into thinking that you are protected because
of superior performance or a friendship.
Their unhappiness won't stop just because you think you are special. You
need to get yourself ready for the moment when you become their intended
Create healthy alternatives
While your fear may cause you to live in hope, and therefore, dull your
stress for a while, that's a set-up for failure. It's better to get ready.
Prepare your resume. Build your network. Find other projects to work on.
Request a transfer. Engage in personal development with a business coach. Get
promoted. Start your own company.
I have seen professionals use these and other techniques to end
relationships with abusive managers before they became painful. Consider them
seriously, knowing that you always have a choice, even when you don't think
that you do.
If you honestly think you have no choices, find a good friend who can
help you see otherwise.
Prepare yourself for the all-important moment
If, with full awareness, you decide to stay in a bad working
relationship, then ready yourself for the moment when the abusive behaviour
lands at your doorstep.
Start by finding a friend who is willing to help. Spend an afternoon
during a quiet weekend, and ask your colleague to role-play several
conversations in which they demonstrate the bad behaviour. As they act it out,
try different responses until you find one that works. Then, repeat it until
you feel confident.
Use a book, such as Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny,
McMillan, Switzler and Roppe, to get some guidance. After a couple hours of
practice, you'll have something that most people don't: actual skills that can
be used in the moment when the abuse occurs. Keep these skills sharp.
Understand that this future but all-important moment might be a turning
point in your relationship with your boss.
When it actually comes, the skill of your response is likely to
permanently reshape your work with that manager, creating an echo throughout
your career that lasts for several years.
Take it seriously. If others can spend hundreds of hours preparing for a
10-second race, surely you can spend a few hours improving the odds for success
in such a critical moment in your career.
The fact that you have a 'boss from hell' today need not derail your
overall growth as a professional.
Francis Wade is President of Framework
Consulting and author of 'Bill's Im-Perfect Time Manage-ment Adventure'. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org