Sincerely, Sara: My Boss is Trying to Get Me Fired. Help!

Dear Sara,

I have a boss who is killing my morale. His tone is consistently condescending and disrespectful, and it makes me day intolerable. He’s been with the company a long time and is well respected, but also feared by many. He never has a nice word to say, no matter how well a job is done. I have a fight or flight response to bullying – and I need to find a middle ground here fast or I’m going to lose my job.

~Frustrated in Philly


Dearest Frustrated,

You are not alone in this circumstance. Most people—myself included—have found ourselves in a similar situation with a hostile superior at one time or another. First off, is the job worth keeping if you’re miserable? Are there other prospects? I would start discretely putting out feelers to your industry connections and friends. Let them know that you are looking for opportunities and ready to make a move should the right opening become  available. Word of mouth and personal referrals are still a powerful tool in the job search. I would also start checking job listings online, and asking around in any offline professional groups you are involved in. 

In the meantime, here are a few suggestions on how to manage your troubled work relations.

1. Try to identify if there a way to deal with him that will minimize conflict.

 Study which reactions generate the least hostility and which produce more aggression. For example, maybe your boss is secretly insecure, and if you temper views that disagree with his with a dash of humility and a bit of courtesy, he will act less hostile towards you. He may feel less challenged and, as a result, be less likely to strike back with venom. It may feel like you’re playing games, but in a situation like yours, office politics can be a measured game of chess. If you can identify any triggers and keep away from them, you may avoid some of the toxicity from coming your way. 

2. Choose your battles.

It’s helpful to occasionally let things slide and not feel you always have to respond to every snide comment or demeaning criticism. Take it with a grain of salt and save your energy for a confrontation that disrespects you in such a way that it inhibits your ability to do your job. 

3. Remember, your boss doesn’t have to be your friend.

Come to terms with the fact that he may never praise your work or be a trusted confidant, but as long as he doesn’t impugn your professional reputation, or cause you to produce low quality work that reflects negatively on your abilities, it’s neither here nor there. So, he won’t be your biggest advocate, seek out other people in the company that will serve that role and create alliances with them.

 4. Don’t take things personally. 

When you take pride in your work and your career, this is easier said than done, I know.  You may feel like an attack on your job is a personal attack on your character, but remember this guy has no idea what type of person you are, or doesn’t care to find out; so don’t take what he says in the workplace as a judgment on who you are as a person. This makes it easier to respond in strategic ways that allow you to cover your bum, should he try and get you fired.Do your best to keep things civil while you explore options and opportunities elsewhere.

Hope this helps! 

Sincerely, Sara