Humiliated at Work
Have you ever been humiliated by your boss at work? How does it make you feel? Angry. Belittled. Disrespected. It’s unfortunate that some bully bosses throw their employees under the bus, and that we even have to deal with an issue like this. In this case study, we’ll explore three different approaches to humiliation at work and how to stand up to your boss. Then, if you encounter this problem in your workplace, you’ll know how to deal with it most effectively.
You are in charge of production at a furniture manufacturing company. Things are going relatively smoothly. Like any business, this one has its share of challenges. But overall, things seem to be going pretty well.
Just when you are riding high, your boss ducks into your office looking a little frantic and tells you that he’s calling an impromptu meeting with several people and you need to attend. Get some coffee and come down to his office.
When Someone Humiliates You in Front of Others
In many workplaces, you wouldn’t think anything of a meeting like this. However, your boss has a history of throwing people under the bus — especially you! He publicly calls people out and criticizes them and their ideas. It’s as though he thinks he has all the answers and sees his direct reports as his pawns. How dare someone try to think for themselves — especially if it’s a different solution than he would have taken.
The boss blames me for everything
You have been shown up by the boss before, and fear that he’s ready to roast you again. It’s amazing how nothing is ever his fault. It is always yours — or occasionally someone else’s. You have to wonder, “Why am I still at this place? Why do I take his verbal abuse?”
How to Deal with Someone Who Humiliates You
Managers often feel that their boss puts them on the spot unnecessarily, or blames others when problems occur. Why do bosses do this? It may be because of a Q1 ego need to take a hard line and deflect blame onto others. It could also be Q2 apathetic, self-protective behavior that is willing to sacrifice others.
Either way, an urgent meeting called by the boss out of the blue will put a manager on the defensive. How to respond?
Click the best option below. Does your response match the Q4 answer?
Choice A is partially correct. Showing strength, not weakness, is a better approach for a boss behaving in a Q1 manner. However, while showing up the boss may make you feel good for the moment, it is apt to cost you in the long term. And it is less likely to help your organization solve its issues. Better to show strength with a Q4 approach. See Choice C.
Choice B: Not an option. When the boss wants to meet, you have to go.
Granted, being well prepared for meetings is generally ideal. However, unexpected things happen all the time in business. It is unrealistic to expect that you will always have ample time to prepare. Part of your leadership skills should be the ability to respond to unplanned circumstances. Choose another option.
Choice C: Probing for understanding is the best course of action. Let’s see why.
How to Stand Up to Your Boss
When the boss exhibits Q1 behavior by blaming and ridiculing a direct report, the person naturally gets frustrated and is apt to evince one of two behavioral styles. Either the direct report takes flight — i.e. withdraws from the situation — which is Q2 behavior. Or he fights back — counter-arguing and blaming back. This is Q1 behavior.
Rather than fall into either of these responses, you are best trying to maintain your cool under pressure and exhibit Q4 behavior. The boss likely sees Q2 as a weakness. Q1 can flare tempers, result in unproductive brawling, and possibly even get you fired. Q4 shows strength, calm, and a concern for attacking the issue, not people. It is the ideal approach to standing up to your boss and will get you and your organization the best results.
Note an important point here. Standing up to the boss does not have to be Q1. Q4 can be just as dominant as Q1. The difference? Q1 dominance is aggressive; Q4 dominance is assertive. Q4 works toward solving the issues while showing respect for the boss and his power.
Even if your idea is better than the boss’ if you try to ramrod it through, do you think your boss will be committed to its execution? To get the boss’ commitment, you need to let him have input, and the opportunity to help shape the idea so it can become at least partially his. Responding to your boss’ Q1 with Q1 of your own is likely to get into a personal brawl, not even getting to a productive discussion of the issues. And since your boss has more power than you, trading personal attacks with him is a losing proposition.
Taking the Q4 high road is more likely to get you the respect you deserve and to make progress on solving the company’s issues.
Control What You Can, Confront What You Can't
A Q4 approach is: Manage what is under your control. Confront what isn’t. When you better understand the issue, then you can advocate for a quality solution. If something isn’t within your control, don’t fret about it. If it’s important and it’s affecting you, learn about it and try to help bring about a solution.
Standing Up for Yourself at Work
More specifically, here is how to be Q4 as you enter this impromptu meeting.
- Get clarity. You first need to understand what is going on. What are they talking about? Why is it important? What is the gravity of it? Probe to get to the facts beneath whatever layers of dramatics, finger-pointing, etc. that may come at you.
- Ask–Listen–Repeat. The way to calm things down and steady the discussion is to probe with questions. Don’t weigh in right away with opinions and solutions. Use summary statements to be sure everyone is on the same page about the issue. As you focus on understanding and attacking the issues, the issues become the focal point. Humiliation at work tends to fall by the wayside.
- Collaborate on a solution. You should neither run from the problem (“I didn’t have anything to do with this!”) nor try to be the big hero (“I know just what we should do. I’ll fix it.”) Ask the boss what he/she wants to be done, probe more for clarity, and now be ready to offer your ideas.
Once a solution is worked through, get skin in the game from others, especially the boss. While you may be the one carrying out the solution, get verbal buy-in. Everyone should agree these are the steps to take.
Congratulations. You now possess more knowledge on how to deal with humiliation at work and how to stand up to your boss.
If you would like to learn more, we invite you to check out our learning for leadership page. There you’ll find over 40 additional leadership case studies, white papers, a behavior questionnaire that will help you deal with that difficult person in your workplace, and more.
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