NEW YORK (MainStreet) — You're having a tough day on the job, and it's about to get worse. Your boss is coming your way, and he doesn't look happy. In fact, he looks downright hostile, and all that hostility may soon be unloaded on you.

What to do when the hammer comes down? Swing right back, says Ohio State University business professor Bennett Tepper.

His research shows employees who fight back against a volatile manager feel less like a "victim" and more like an office equal. They also say they are happier on the job than those who don't stand up for themselves.

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"Fighting back" in the workplace isn't exactly common advice from experts, and even Tepper wasn't sure he was on the right path before he gathered all his data. "Before we did this study, I thought there would be no upside to employees who retaliated against their bosses, but that's not what we found," he says. "The best situation is certainly when there is no hostility — but if your boss is hostile, there appears to be benefits to reciprocating. Employees felt better about themselves because they didn't just sit back and take the abuse."

Tepper advises career professionals in a hostile situation to stand up for themselves by defusing the situation diplomatically. He says to return the hostility by either ignoring a hostile boss or getting your boss off balance by acting as though you don't know what he or she is so angry about. It's a "passive aggressive" approach that can work well in a tough workplace situation and is a good form of retaliation that doesn't involve a yelling match.

"These are things that bosses don't like and that fit the definition of hostility, but in a passive-aggressive form," he says. "I expect that you don't have too many employees yelling and screaming at their bosses."

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Tepper studied 169 and 371 workers over seven months in two studies and tracked their interactions with emotionally volatile managers. What he found was that when employees didn't retaliate, they expressed higher levels of psychological stress and lower job satisfaction. But not if those employees turned the tables and retaliated.

Somewhat surprisingly, fighting back against your boss isn't always the "risky career move" you might think.

"Employees didn't believe their actions hurt their career," Tepper says. In fact, by retaliating, career professionals can earn more respect in the workplace. "There is a norm of reciprocity in our society. We have respect for someone who fights back, who doesn't just sit back and take abuse. Having the respect of co-workers may help employees feel more committed to their organization and happy about their job."

— By Brian O'Connell for MainStreet