The Mean Boss: Ask Noah

The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Mean bosses will not only kill your enthusiasm for the job -- they will also make your existence at work feel like hell.

In today's economy, most employees cannot afford to abandon ship at the first sign of distress.

Creating a skill set to manage and cope with a hostile superior is essential to remaining productive and staying sane.

While experiencing a rant from a boss, silence is often the best tool.

Q: I am lucky to be in my late 20s and have a job in this economy. In general, I try to look at what I have rather then what I don't.

However, my morale is shaken. Currently, I am employed in an intimidating work environment. My boss can be quite belittling. He often usea language that is aggressive and is not respectful of my contributions to the company.

How can I function in a working environment like this, and maintain productivity and positivity? If you have any tips, I could certainly use them!

The revered American philosopher, Homer Simpson once said, "Kill my boss? Do I dare live out the American dream?"Work long enough and you'll find a boss you utterly despise or you feel utterly despises you!

Over the last few years Professor Wayne Hochwarter of Florida State University has studied the often volatile employee-boss relationship. He finds that hostility between the two parties is at an all-time high.

Considering lack of alternative employment opportunities for millions of Americans, this has become an "acute" problem leading to "hostility, stress and declining productivity in the American workplace."

Statistical highlights of his studies include:
  • 40% of all workers wouldn't acknowledge their boss if they ran into them on the street.
  • 24% have caught their supervisor in a direct lie but never received an apology.
  • 29% of employees have hidden from abusive bosses.
  • You are not alone in your feelings. The question is what can you do about it?

    Here are ten tips:

    1. Find ways to distract yourself from the hostility. Maintain focus on tasks at hand, gain support from fellow employees and work to de-personalize your situation.

    2. Stay away from the "cycle of name calling" among co-workers. Do not sit around all day taking jabs at your boss as this will only serve to further demonize your supervisor.

    3. Examine long-term goals vs. short-term goals. Most young workers use their first few jobs as stepping stones to greener work pastures.

    4. Sometimes it is wiser to pick your battles and practice the art of ignoring smaller upsets. Another highly regarded practice is to breathe steadily and count silently and slowly until they just walk away!

    5. Do not meet negativity with negativity. Stay calm in your bosses' presence. Tools include redirecting the focus and acknowledging the content of conversation vs. tone.

    6. While experiencing a rant from a boss, silence is often the best tool. Let them get out everything they need to say, acknowledge that you heard it and part ways.

    7. With regard to interpersonal communication skills and overall personal essence, try behaving in the opposite manner of your boss.

    8. Create a "safe space" within this negative environment. Compliment your co-workers and reward yourself for a job well done.

    9. Be the source of kindness, tolerance and patience in the office. Be your own self-motivator and inspire others through your humility.

    10. Laugh. It is truly the best medicine. Sometimes insanity must be recognized for what it is!

    After considering and applying some or all of these tips you may still feel compelled to have a discussion with your boss. I urge you to do so carefully, thinking about how to most effectively proceed.

    Pay special attention to not only the words you say but to the timing and context in which you say them. Try and be as respectful as possible, while still voicing your concerns with conviction!

    Please speak to your boss in private, so as not embarrass them (ironic, isn't it?).

    Remember he/she will immediately try and defend themselves. Indicate that your goal is to improve communication skills between the two of you, in order for the company to be more productive.

    Stay on task and do not let your emotions get the best of you. Write down what you want to say, and practice with a friend or significant other. Understand what you want to get out of the conversation before you start it.

    There are times when the level of abuse is beyond discussion. In cases of repetitive acts of bullying, racial and sexual intimidation, and other forms of harassment, you have a responsibility not only to yourself but your fellow workers to report the boss to human resources or take legal action. I emphatically state: No one should work under these conditions!

    Closing reminder:

    Often when a "lower echelon" employee quickly rises in rank to a superior position, he/she will find themselves overwhelmed by their newfound responsibilities. They will unconsciously mirror the tone and style of their former superior.

    I strongly advise you to carry the awareness that when you have the fortune to receive a leadership role, you will act differently!

    Considering the high unemployment rate and uncertain economic future of our country, many Americans are being forced to deal with work environments that they normally would have abandoned. Thanks for posing this age-old conflict to TheStreet readership and being brave enough to ask for help.

    Good luck, and remember to stay calm.

    As always, keep the questions coming in to "Ask Noah" at

    Have a profitable and peaceful week, Noah

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