10 Ways to deal with Bully Bosses

Having a bully for a boss can be soul destroying. Knowing every morning when your alarm goes off that you've got to face more misery can destroy your will to live. In this post we look at the types of bullying bosses there are out there, and the best strategies for coping with them.

June 20, 2023

In the late Nineties I had a boss who had the appearance of Barbara Windsor, but underneath that demure exterior lay a management style that was more akin to Rupert Murdoch. And just like the Machiavellian Aussie, Barbs certainly liked to manage with fear and intimidation.

Although I really enjoyed the job at the time, I left the business because of the effect this blonde tyrannical monster was having on my general well being.

I remember feeling at the time that examples of Barbara’s management style of fear and intimidation must have been few and far between in the business world. How wrong I was. According to a study by theEmployment Law Alliance, almost half of all employees have been targeted by a bully boss.


The different breeds

If you have a particularly horrible, bullying boss, you may be able to categorise them, as Robert Mueller (author of Bullying Bosses: A Survivor’s Guide) has done.

He has identified seven different types of bully:

1. Subtle bully bosses: They torment their targets with quiet but piercing techniques. 2. Abusive bully bosses: These bosses hound a target employee without mercy. 3. Crude bully bosses: These people throw their weight around loudly and physically. 4. Raging bully bosses: These people intimidate everyone in the vicinity with their out-of-control anger. 5. Echo bully bosses: Not normally abusive, they mimic bullying behaviour with their subordinates. 6. Ghost bully bosses: These bosses guide, mentor and supervise lower-level bosses in bullying techniques and tactics. 7. Satellite bully bosses: These are people of stature who undermine the target by contributing to someone else's bullying.

So what can be done to deal with this prevalence of bully or tyrant bosses currently mismanaging people all around the globe?

They come in all shapes and forms. Some, like Barbara, rule by intimidation, insist on getting their way and fly off the handle at the drop of the hat. And as was the case with me, they often treat their subordinates like children and rarely ask for anyone’s input.

Is training the solution?

But the big question is what makes these people behave in this manner and how do they get away with it for so long?

Brian Stern, president of management consulting firm Shaker Consulting Group, explains that tyrannical behaviour often stems from bosses not knowing what they're doing:

“A false assumption is thinking that bosses actually know how to manage people. Mention the word 'boss' and we immediately think that the person has some special abilities or training.”

“There are rules and training programs for almost every conceivable job, from cleaners to heart surgeons, but no set curriculum teaches you how to be a boss. An obvious way to compensate for a lack of skills is to be tough and unyielding. You stand a better chance of being left alone and unquestioned this way.”

But training alone won’t always turn a boss with Dickensian values into a more rounded modern manager.

So, when dealing with the bully boss, you have to first ask yourself whether or not you can coexist with them in the same business or department.

Is it worth the fight?

If like I did back in the Nineties you feel it really isn't worth the battle, then start looking for something else. You will be amazed at the calming effect this has when it comes to dealing with Mr or Mrs Angry.

However, if you feel that your job and your future with the business is worth fighting for, then Brian Stern offers a few more words of guidance about how to tactfully talk to your tyrannical leader.

“Don't take an accusatory tone," he says. "Instead, put the burden on yourself. Begin by outlining the problem, and suggest ways you and your boss can work together."

Or, the other option and perhaps a safer strategy is to lie low and stay out of the way of your autocratic boss. Simply do your job to the best of your abilities and avoid confrontation.

Whatever you decide to do, nothing is worth enduring constant misery five days a week, not to mention a weekend ruined by obsessing about the impending doom of Monday morning.

Strategies to cope with a Bully Boss

Robert Mueller, the author that categorised the types of Bully Bosses as listed above, doesn't think that people should take the easy route and simply look for another job, although I would argue that sometimes this can be the only option.

Robert believes we should fight back by becoming what he calls “workplace warriors”, where we use self-defence strategies that can help restore power, dignity and options to the bullied employee.

Robert says that you more you know about your despotic boss, the better equipped you are to handle them. Before you decide to tackle the problem, Robert also has a few observations he would like to impart about bully bosses:

- Personal confrontations with bullies are almost never productive. - Management-team members interpret any confrontation an employee might have with a boss as also being a confrontation with them, and without well-documented proof of a pattern of behaviour, they will likely view the employee as the problem. - If bullies notice you're ducking them, they will not see this as sensible avoidance, but as cowering behaviour. - Don't be afraid to make eye contact with your bully boss. - Don't mistakenly think you can defuse a bully by getting personal and showing your human side. Bullies not only don't appreciate the personal side of others, they don't tolerate it. Details of your personal, spiritual or emotional life are weapons in your antagonist's hands. - Don't try and enlist the help of your HR department. HR can be the chilliest place any employee can visit, and also one of the most dangerous. HR's allegiance is to the employer - and its goal is protecting the employer from legal claims. Approach rarely, with caution, and only when fully prepared.

So, you have decided that you will take Mueller’s advice and tackle the problem head-on, after all why should you be the one to suffer because of a tyrannical boss?

Mueller offers 10 strategies for going one-on-one with your tyrant boss:

1. Approach your bullying problem like a work project.

Be methodical in how you behave, perform, document and strategise. Take notes after an incident. Try to stay unemotional. Even though he or she is trying to make you think the opposite, it is the bully who has a serious personal and professional problem, not you.

2. Be a workplace warrior.

Even if you plan to put out feelers for other jobs, dedicate yourself to vanquishing your abuser, not being a victim.

3. Sweat the small stuff.

Document even the smallest incidents, which often become the most important, illustrating a pattern of bullying that might not otherwise be apparent. Teasing counts. Sarcasm counts. Ignoring you or criticizing you counts. A very public glare or silent treatment counts.

4. Don't let yourself get isolated.

Every day, pick out someone you haven't talked to for a while. Have a brief but focused conversation. Bullies work hard to alienate targets from their co-workers. Don't let that happen to you.

5. Display self-esteem and broadcast a positive attitude.

Pay attention to how your appearance - such as hair and clothes - is perceived by others. Make your personal space an oasis of calm and taste.

6. Try to stay in safe spots.

Your abuser is less likely to attack when you are around other supervisors, known allies, particularly upright employees, and customers or other outsiders of importance to the employer. Make a list of those people and places.

7. During a bullying situation, excuse yourself.

Don't beat a hasty retreat, and don't leave the building; tell your abuser that you're late for an appointment with HR, for example. Or casually excuse yourself to use the restroom. Never enter the restroom if you are being pursued by a bully.

8. During an attack, try distracting your abuser.

Pick up something physical - as long at it's not a threatening item - such as a critical file that needs the bully's attention or a note with an important phone number that needs to be called. Sometimes a simple distraction is enough to get him or her to stop.

9. Protect your personal information.

Tell bullies as little as possible about your life, family, friends, hobbies, interests, religion and so on. Information about you gives them power.

10. Hold your cards close to your chest.

As you're building a case against a bully boss, the less you talk about your story to others at work, the better. Controlling what you say, when you say it and to whom needs to be part of your overall, well-organized strategy.


My only first-hand experience of trying to deal with a tyrannical boss ended in disaster. I had a boss who enjoyed an alcoholic beverage or seven at lunch time and would often have a boozy fuelled rant at his staff around 3pm.

Because I was young and lacking in business nouse, I decided the best way to deal with the problem was to inform his boss, the MD of the company, exactly what was happening on a daily basis.

My manager at the time, a fantastic salesman, turned on the waterworks with the MD and promised to change his lunchtime habit.

Coburg Banks - Multi-Sector Recruitment Agency
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