Dear Orna: My boss is a bully. She rolls her eyes and displays obvious signs of irritation. She can be very mean to me in front of other people, too. I work hard and try to do the best I can, but her attitude is hurtful and demoralizing. Please help!
~ Signed: Tired of Being Bullied!
Dear TIRED OF BEING BULLIED: My heart goes out to you. When it comes to managers, there are all types: demanding, micromanaging, hands-off or even relaxed. But the worst kind to deal with is the bully!
Assuming your boss does this to everyone, and not just to you, you know the problem is not just yours alone. That's good news; but you still have to deal with it.
Kill Her With Kindness
My first suggestion is to kill her with kindness. Mean people like the reaction they get from being mean. So don't give her the satisfaction. Smile and respond in a calm way and say: "Looks like you don't like this idea," and continue to be very pleasant :-)! You will catch her off guard and she will likely soften up a bit. Mean people like to fight and if you refuse to fight and diffuse the situation, they will usually back off.
She's A "Mean Girl"
On the other hand, if your boss just picks on a few people, and you're one of them, it sounds like a case of High School Mean Girl (or Guy). She has her favorites and she likes to pick on people who are not part of her "inner" circle. In this case, your job is to develop your own band of allies. Having other great relationships at work will boost your morale and give you a layer of protection in case any negative comments are made about you.
Besides having good friends at work, be sure to keep track of all your accomplishments - both big and small. Write them down. They will remind you of what a good job you're doing and this important list can also be used to respond to your mean boss during feedback sessions.
Mean or Demanding?
Make sure you're not over-reacting. There is definitely a difference between a boss who is perceived as mean because he or she is tough and a boss who is mean because he or she is a bully. A bully enjoys belittling and berating employees. The bully enjoys making people feel incompetent and usually fails to recognize or reward good work.
A boss who is simply tough has high standards of excellence, but at the same time usually rewards employees for good work. So, be honest with yourself about why your boss is treating you a certain way.
Is Bullying Illegal
Bullying or being a jerk is bad management, but it's not illegal. However, if your manager is treating you differently because of your race, sex, religion or any other protected class, then you do have legal protection and you should seek legal advice.
But if your manager is just a jerk because she doesn't like you or is a hostile person generally, unfortunately, it's not against the law!
Stay positive. Make friends. Keep a list of all your contributions to the company!