When the Bully Boss is Female

September 16, 2009

This video from www.howdini.com has advice on how to deal with bullies in general, but it is particularly interesting because it focuses on when the bully boss is female.  There is a lot of great advice in here, from documenting the bully’s behavior and confronting the bully to ultimately having the courage to leave a bad situation.

In his book The Courageous Follower, Ira Chaleff reminds us that we need to protect ourselves when we have an abusive leader.  “The best protection for abusive leaders is darkness and secrecy, our protection is light and documentation.”

The bully is counting on the fact that no one will say anything because they have learned that most people will not.  The best way to get the bully to behave differently toward you is to behave differently toward them.  Dealing with a bully is messy but necessary.

Document, document, document.  Be as specific as possible about dates, times, what was said, where it was said, the context, and about who might have witnessed or overheard the abuse.  It is better to confront abuse early than to wait until it is out of control.  As you document and if you need to confront, stay focused on the purpose. Even if you are being hurt, your responsibility is to try to help – yourself, your boss, your co-workers, and your organization.

Bulling behavior is symptomatic of deeper dysfunction in the organizational culture.  You might be able to stop this bully, but you can bet there will be others at different places and different times if you stay with the organization.

Related article: Bully Boss: What do You Think?

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Comments (17)

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  1. Jim jackson says:

    You always have a choice. You should never give your power to anyone especially a bully. Bully learns that they can treat people that way if no one stands up to them.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    I agree, Jim. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Bret

  2. Wally Bock says:

    Good advice, Bret, regardless of the gender of the bully. In many workplaces there is no practical, effective option if confronting the bully doesn’t work. One of the things I often despair of is the number of companies who believe that if a supervisor “gets results” that automatically overrides the way the person acts. Until we do a better job of addressing that we will continue to have those “kiss up, kick down” bosses.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    I agree, Wally, there are no easy answers. And you are so correct that companies often create these monstors in the name of results. Thanks! Bret

  3. Janice says:

    I just got fired by a bully boss. The very person that is to protect people from bully bosses. Unbelievable behavior from this person. With all my free time now I am gathering information about all the bullies in our institution and will make a report to the top administrator and try to persuade him to do something about it. I may have lost my battle but I refuse to let the behavior continue!

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Janice, welcome to my website and thanks for sharing your story. I LOVE how you are responding to this terrible even in your life. Keep your chin up and your eye on the horizon – it’s just a matter of time. You just need to find an organization that appreciates your courage and value. Thanks! Bret

  4. Dianne says:

    I just went to HR about my female bully boss. She has been there 25 + years. I have been there 13. I was told over the years, that is the way she is, nothing will get done about it. Until this AM when she confronted me on a mistake in front of my entire dept, and the entire office heard. I went to HR and expressed my concern. They are not sure how to deal with it as ” it is hard to change old behavior, and back in the day that was acceptable ” And now I fear she will make my life hell there. And I will loose my job. The president is “OLD SCHOOL” and thinks she is the bee’s knees” But she is rude, crass, and like a pit bull with lip stick . (of course when he is not around ) What should I do ??? I like my job and my co-workers. Everyone is afraid to come forward !!!

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Thanks for sharing, Diane. You should assume that HR has known about the bully for years and does not intend to do anything. If it were me, I would first decide I don’t deserve to work for an asshole and don’t intend to do so. then I would get a lot of advice – friends, family, clergy, and especially an attorney. I think I would start with a tactful private discussion with the woman to tell her I don’t respond well to this kind of treatment and to suggest some ways she could interact with me that I do respond to. If that did not work, I would start looking for another job and follow any advice my lawyer gave me. the toughest part for me would be to refrain from telling this person to kiss my ass – honestly. Thanks for sharing and I hope we hear from you again! Bret

  5. Bev says:

    Oh my gosh, I’m not crazy, my boss is just a mean bully. I’ve worked many places over the last 30 years, but no doubt about it, hands down working in the school system for a woman director has been the worst working experience of my life. It’s been three years of constant harrassment, but she is very clever about it.

    It’s gotten to the point now that they have secluded my office from the other two women I work with and they seem to somehow be enjoying the treatment I receive. My boss will go out of her way to thank them and gush over their handling of their workloads while at the same time question me as to why this or that is not done. I work hard if not harder than the other woman in the office.

    But, come one, one of these women is going on 61 and the other (including my boss) is approaching 60! I’m just a secretary (52) who needs my job.

    I did file a complaint with the EEOC after my boss took and kept some of my personal belongings that had to do with a divorce case I was going through. The divorce proceedings were at the office next to my building so I had a notebook that I was to take to the lawyer’s office and pictures of my household belongings, my husband’s retirement and stock holdings, personal financial statements and other things (a stack about 1 1/2″ thick) came up missing. I saw them sticking out of a drawer when I went in to file paperwork. She had given them to a co-director and he later admitted not knowing what they were. When I asked him why he took them, she said “I did!” I asked her why she had kept them five months – by then I thought I had lost them and could not use them for my hearing. Her answer was a thrice repeated, “why did you have them here?”

    What is this woman’s problem. She continues to exhibit mean spirited interaction with me. I need my job and the market is such that in my town there are no jobs available.

    I was a competent, intelligent, attractive administrative assistant when I walked in that office. She came two years later and I am now a depressed, medicated 55 pound heavier and much older looking woman than I was three years ago. I just don’t understand her motivation.

  6. William says:

    I worked for a large public company in Finance and dealt with a monster. I worked harder and had more responsiblities. Yet, she would gush over the other employees and constantly complain about deadlines being missed by minutes and immaterial unavoidable descrepencies between numbers. I would have closed door meetings in which she would have a folder on the desk with a pile of documentation regarding my transgressions.

    This individual expected me to work long hours while the other employees could leave during key moments in our work cycle. In fact, I was prevented from going to doctors appointments.

    My boss showed a completely different face to her peers and upper levels of management. She was also a mutli-performance award winner which seemed to give complete immunity. I had to see a medical professional for anti-anxiety medication to deal with the stress of the situation.

    What was truly scary was that prior to my reporting this person, people would get promoted her department and disappear after a while. Rumors got back to me that departing employees talked about what a fake person she is.

    I made mutliple attempts to report the abuse to her bosses and I was brushed off. She was a darling with HR because of the fake demenor and employee awards and “whatever it takes” mentality. I fought back but realized it was useless and found another job – what is amazing is how upset she was that that my workload would have to be somehow shifted to other members of the team.

    I’ll never forget how this organization protected this sociopath. My boss crafted an image with those that mattered and then chose one member of the team to torment. My new company showed me what truly good managers are.

    The person that eventually replaced me was tortured worse than me.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, William. That’s a terrible story, but I appreciate you sharing it with us. Sociopath is probably a fair description. Thanks! Bret

    William Reply:

    Thanks Bret.

    I have to also mention a power tactic that she employed on me and my replacement:

    1. “If you don’t understand something, please ask me.”
    If you ask her, then
    “You do not understand you’re job.”

    2. “If you cannot finish a task by a deadline, let me know.”
    You let her know, then
    “You are inefficient at performing you’re tasks and therefore that is why you are not going to meet the deadline.”

    My boss used these tactics to put me in a no win circle. You’re day-to-day becomes a living hell and you are trying to justify everything you do. It’s also easy for the bully to make you look incompetent to HR and higher levels of management.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    That sucks, William! Sometimes the most we can learn from others is how NOT to treat people ourselves. Thanks, Bret

  7. Brett Bok says:

    I work in human services, the only male in my office, which i can handle,but my boss is petty, and has been begun targeting me, yelling at me over the phone and embarassing me in front of others. I get along great with my other coworkers, and I have made mistakes, but I am new to human services and was told by coworker whom i respect (and she said it in the nicest way possible) that i was hired because im young and underqualified (can take a workload and wont quit). I dont wana quit cause i work with kids i am dedicated to. But my boss is a female chauvenist, who cant control her emotions, around the minor mistakes i have made, hiring me meant she knew i would make mistakes.

    -help (for the love of God)

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Brett. Tough situation. I think you first have to admit to yourself that what you have sucks, and you should be planning to move on. Stay or go, never surrender your dignity to anyone for any reason. Once it’s gone, you can’t get it back and only you can give it away. I’d ask to speak to her in private and very calmly and assertively ask her to treat you differently. Good luck. Bret

    Brett Bok Reply:

    Thanks! yeah calm talk was reverted to how my behavior is implusive, and my response to things is too docile. Application, resumes, and covers all sent out. Hopefully quitting in style soon!

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Hang in there, Brett, but get the hell out as soon as possible! Bret