Last year has been stressful enough without someone else adding to your worries. Sometimes, when someone is feeling anxious and worried, they can project their feelings onto you, as a way of venting and shifting their feelings. This is bad enough when it’s a friend or partner, but you can get into difficult territory when it’s your boss, i.e. the one who pays your wages. This could be things like them blaming you when something goes wrong, even if the responsibility lies with them. Or, it could look like your boss simply being rude to you when they’re stressed. It can be extremely draining, as you’re not only focused on ythe job you have to do, but also dodging those blows while still being professional. So, what do you do if your boss is using you like their emotion punch bag? Today, we speak to Laura Cloke, a Career Fulfilment Coach who helps driven professionals to confront their fears and go after what they want for themselves – from big promotions, a change of sector, city or profession, to turning redundancy into a valuable career opportunity.
Laura started off her career working in retail. Following this, she moved to the charity sector to use her retail skills for good and whilst she was doing that, she discovered coaching. “Having a great coach helped me to see that I could define career success on my own terms, and I could work in a way that fulfilled my needs,” she said, “rather than chasing after what I thought success looked like.” Laura had the opportunity to join an internal coaching programme and she then trained to be a coach and support the colleagues in her organisation with their personal development as well as doing her day job. When she got made redundant two years ago, she started her own business.
When Bosses Lash Out
Laura had a manager who had high expectations for the team and wasn’t happy if things didn’t go to plan, which they made very clear by the way they would lash out at people. “When faced with something going wrong, rather than asking the team to help to fix the problem, they wanted to blame someone for not doing their job.” Laura thinks that underneath their confident exterior, they were insecure in their role and lashing out was a coping mechanism. “They had a lot of pressure from their manager to do well and they were also not very good at delegating, because they didn’t think anyone else could do the job as well as them.” When Laura first started working for them, she took it personally, but she soon realised it wasn’t.
How to Avoid The Blows
#1 When Do They Do It?
“I would start by looking at when your boss uses you as an emotional punch bag, is it all the time or are there things that trigger it? Do they do it to everyone or is it specific to you? If you can work out why then you can try to avoid being in those situations or change your behaviour to get a different reaction. Sometimes the way you frame a piece of information can make a huge difference to how someone reacts to it. “
#2 Speak to Them Privately
“If your boss lashes out because they don’t want to be seen to be wrong, then contradicting them in public won’t go down well. Give them the updates they need in private so they can reassess their point of view before talking about it publicly.”
#3 Give Them the Solution
If they have knee jerk reactions to bad news give them a heads up by email or lead the conversation with the solution. If your boss isn’t good at delegating and trusting other people to do good work, then presenting them with a problem will cause them to think they have another thing to fix. If you lead with the solution and explain why you have had to change direction, then they will be able to collaborate with you on the solution.
Laura says that ultimately, if your boss is behaving badly towards you it is a reflection of their “poor leadership skills and not your ability to do your job”. Clashes in personality will happen at work and you won’t always like everyone you work with, but if your boss is behaving in a way that isn’t acceptable you don’t have to put up with it. Emotionally abusive can be a form of bullying and that is never okay, particularly if you are being singled out. Start by speaking to a colleague you trust or your HR team to let them know about the problems you are having. If that doesn’t help you can talk to someone impartial like Acas about your rights at work and they have some fantastic resources that can help.
During lockdown, Laura launched The Inbox Coach, a weekly email that uses tools and techniques from the world of coaching to help career women to create their own consistent personal development practice. You can find out more here.