Ask Sophaya: Help Me Deal With My Angry Boss

Dear Sophaya,

I have a supervisor who gets angry. Like really angry. Yes, we work in a higher-stress environment, so I get that he has a lot to worry about and deal with, but when he gets upset, it’s scary, and it makes it difficult for me to work with him in an effective way. How am I supposed to deal with him? What can I do to make our relationship better? Because he is really weighing on me. I feel like this is even tougher as a remote worker…in an office environment, everyone sees two sides of him: the yelling/disrespect and the more human, congenial side, but as a remote worker I mostly feel like I mostly hear from him when he’s angry, and it’s something I have to deal with alone (you know, aside from meetings and group calls). Any suggestions?

Sincerely, Stressball

Dear Stressball,

I’m so sorry to hear you’re dealing with a difficult supervisor. Our jobs and careers can be difficult enough when things are going well–never mind when our team leaders frighten us, hurt us, or make us feel small. That’s not the way things are supposed to go–but unfortunately, it happens, and it sounds like you’re in one of those less-than-optimal circumstances now. 

It’s easy to absorb the negativity of the people we work with–especially when that negativity is coming from a supervisor, and doubly so when we don’t have the camaraderie of colleagues surrounding us to help us balance it out. 

I hear you when you say that your boss is really weighing on you, and that you find it difficult to work with him effectively because his anger can be scary. I also hear you saying that you’d like to try and improve your relationship with him. I respect and sympathize with this desire; however, I want to acknowledge that there is a chance your supervisor may not be willing to put in the work necessary to build a mutual relationship of respect. Truly, that’s not personal–it sounds like he may be having difficulties dealing with the nature of the work, and/or perhaps he also has some personal struggles we aren’t aware of. Either way, I think our goal for now is to help strengthen your communication so you can get what you need with minimal pain and maximum efficacy. 

Here are some tips that may help.

Meet Your Basic Needs First

This might sound simple, and a bit silly, but trust me on this: You need to prioritize getting enough sleep, eating enough whole, healthy food, drinking enough water, getting some movement or physical activity, and even using the bathroom when you need to throughout the day. If you don’t, your mental and emotional stamina will falter, and you will be less equipped to perform your job well. Sadly, our basic self-care is one of the first things to go when we are stressed out by things we can’t control (like the frightening moods of a difficult boss), and as our health slowly spirals out of control, so does the quality of our work. It’s a very vicious cycle.

Stick to the Concrete

According to the Harvard Business Review, one effective way to communicate with a stubborn or difficult boss is to be direct about what you need. “Be specific about the resources and support you need to do your job, explain your rationale, and articulate how this will benefit them and the organization. Think about timing, and try to have these conversations when your boss is calm and in an upbeat mood. Make sure to prepare, practice, and anticipate reactions.”

Try Repeat-Backs

This is a tried-and-true tip for dealing with supervisor disagreement that the Muse shares via Fast Company: “Simply repeat back to him what he said and ask “Is that what you meant?” (a standard trick ripped from couples’ therapy). If he agrees to your recap, ask him to tell you more about it.”

Reach out to Human Resources

In another article on the Muse, The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) reports that 19% of adults say they have been bullied at work. The Institute defines bullying as “‘repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators.’ The abusive conduct—including verbal abuse—is intimidating, threatening, or humiliating to the target. It can, and often does, interfere with the target’s ability to get their work done.” 

If that sounds familiar to you, or if trying to take command of the situation doesn’t seem to be working, it’s very possible that you’re in a no-win situation with your supervisor. 

In that case, it’s important to start by reaching out to higher ups in the organization, or to your human resources representative, either for suggestions or to report the situation. Find out from them if there is anything that can be done for your well being or for the sake of your job protection. 

Then, if all else fails, my suggestion is to seek alternative employment–either within your organization (if you love everything else about your company), or elsewhere. No job is worth the pain you endure when you work for a bully. 

I wish you the best of luck in dealing with this extremely tense and painful situation. I cannot emphasize enough that in most situations like this, the cause has nothing to do with you and everything to do with factors you cannot see or control. I hope you’re able to find the resources you need to be happy at work and beyond in the days ahead.



Featured image by Samuel Scrimshaw