How to cope with a mean boss - throw it right back at them

Sarah Spickernell
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Do you have a Devil Wears Prada kinda boss? (Source: Getty)
When it comes to career progression, one of the biggest stumbling blocks can be a bully boss.
There's no black and white way of dealing with such a person – on the one hand you can bow down to their every wish while risk being taken advantage of. On the other hand, you can stand your ground and risk being replaced by a more subservient type.
Don't worry – you won't be. A new study by researchers at the Ohio State University has revealed how employees who don't let their bosses put them down are much happier in their jobs and end up being more successful as a result.
This is because most of the problem does not stem from your boss's reaction to your retaliation, but from the way they make you feel if you allow them to bully you.
The researchers asked 169 people a series of questions about employer hostility, including how often their bosses tried to ridicule them.
Seven months later, the same respondents completed measures of job satisfaction, commitment to their employer, psychological distress and negative feelings.
Results showed that when bosses were hostile - but employees didn't retaliate - the workers had higher levels of psychological distress and less job satisfaction. On top of that, they were looking to leave (not much chance of career progression anyway, then).
There'll be no shouting match across the office, however – this is the subtle but deadly method some bosses employ to make their worklings feel intimidated and ridiculed. The researchers describe them as “hostile bosses”.
"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," said Bennett Tepper, lead author of the study.
"The best situation is certainly when there is no hostility. But if your boss is hostile, there appear to be benefits to reciprocating. Employees felt better about themselves because they didn't just sit back and take the abuse."
There are three ways to throw it right back at them, according to the researchers: ignore, act like you don't know what they are talking about, or just put in a half-hearted effort.
"These are things that bosses don't like and that fit the definition of hostility, but in a passive-aggressive form," explained Tepper. "I expect that you don't have too many employees yelling and screaming at their bosses."
The reason why people who don't sit back and accept abuse are happier is not just because they avoid psychological distress, but also because they gain more respect from others. The findings are published in the journal Personnel Psychology.
"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,” said Tepper.

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