It was 2011 and I was coasting.
I had an amazing boss, I was happy with my job and I was getting paid well. I was receiving great reviews, bonuses and tons of praise. My manager was even preparing me for a promotion. I felt like I had arrived.
But it all shattered when my amazing boss got an awesome opportunity and left the company. Within just a few months, working with her replacement shifted my position from a confident worker into an anxious mess. Sure, I had dealt with difficult work situations before, but none felt like an assault on my ego each day.
The new boss butted heads with the entire staff, but she directed most of her aggressive behavior toward me. She made me feel small in meetings and undermined me constantly. She micromanaged me to the point where I had to report on each task as I did them throughout the day.
She influenced customers to take complaints about me to the corporate office and of course they came back to inform me. She crept around hallways to spy on me and my coworkers (and we caught her). She even rearranged her desk to be behind mine in the office so she could monitor my computer screen. In the back of my mind, her bizarre antics made me wonder if I was secretly on Oxygen’s series Snapped.
Walking on pins and needles at work began to affect other parts of my life. I stopped eating and lost 15 pounds. I went to bed right after work and just slept through the weekends.
I reported it to human resources, but proving her bullying behavior was tough. Upper management made an effort to help intervene because of my past track record, but their hands were tied since she wasn’t directly breaking any policies. Now that I’ve moved on from the situation, I can look back and identify three major mistakes I made while dealing with this terrible boss.
Mistake #1: I let her influence my character and work performance.
While working for her my personality changed. I became edgy. I jumped at the “ding” of each email or phone call, assuming the worst. I didn’t perform to the best of my ability because my mind wasn’t there. I was pretty much a zombie.
Most regrettably, when frustrations boiled over I confronted her. After our conversation she started using the “angry black woman” or “unprofessional” card to defend her actions. She kept pushing me hoping I would break. And I let her win.
The only thing in life you have control over is how you react to situations. And when you hand over that control, you lose a piece of yourself. It took me a while to regain faith in my abilities after letting her influence my mood and performance. And I never intend to lose it again.
Mistake #2: Thinking her bullying was my fault.
Even though she despised me, I desperately wanted to get in her good graces. I wanted to prove to myself that I could win her over if I did exactly what she asked. But I know now it’s impossible when dealing with a bullying boss. They will always find an error to point out.
Later I found out that her bad managerial skills were well-known in the industry, so there really was no hope of me winning her over. I did a phone interview with a competitor and somehow we got on the topic of my boss. Come to find out she worked for that company and they pushed her to resign because they disliked her so much. Well, what do you know?
Mistake #3: Trying to compete with her.
When all else failed, I attempted to meet her with the same attitude she gave me. I became sarcastic in my face-to-face and email interactions with her. I attempted to point out the flaws in her work just to get back at her. But at the end of the day I felt icky inside and realized she would always beat me at her game. Someone who’s passive aggressive because of their own insecurities will play the innocent victim or come back worse. I should have laid out my concerns directly instead of mimicking her innuendo.
Ultimately, I was urged by friends in higher places to transfer to another location within the same company. Now that it’s over I’m at peace with what I’ve learned from the experience, but one thing that always frustrates me about being bullied at work is feeling powerless. Especially when you’ve already proved your worth to the company before stuff hits the fan. As a result, I’m always fiercely loyal to my own well-being before an employer.
What are your thoughts? How have you handled working with a boss who had it out for you? Do you wish you handled it differently?