In the private and public sectors, organizational performance is strong when employees are managed properly. Employees perform well and they are confident in their employers.

So it was disturbing when someone asked me what to do about an abusive boss.

The degreed employee had just received a negative-performance appraisal, and is a white-collar professional over 40 years old.

The appraisal threatened a coaching and counseling session in 90 days as a precursor to being terminated.

So I asked some open-ended questions to get the person to open up to me.

The person mentioned examples of increasing hostility from the boss, micro-management, uneven treatment compared to coworkers, and reduced duties after trying to speak up.

Also cited were cases of other employees who were forced out after long tenures.

Among my conclusions: The boss was guilty of age discrimination, harassment and retaliation.

Even in the face of such bad management, my personal philosophy is to try to avoid calling attorneys or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The self-esteem benefits from triumphing over such adversities are worth it.

So, before calling the EEOC, I suggested an alternative. Why?

Despite the likelihood of age discrimination, harassment and retaliation, often all is needed is a sophisticated assertive response.

My counsel included these measures:

  • Respond in writing to the appraisal after doing some research. (Research should include best-practices management, related-EEOC definitions on discrimination and harassment, the organization’s employee handbook and the organization’s published management principles.)
  • Then compare the supervisor’s behavior with the best-practices management, EEOC standards, and the organization’s employee handbook and management principles .
  • Document and compile a list of management misbehavior – try to reach the magic number of six allegations of poor management.
  • Write a response using the following five steps in “How To Assertively Voice  A Complaint.”

Despite the likelihood of age discrimination, harassment and retaliation, often all is needed is a sophisticated assertive response.

In “How To Assertively Voice  A Complaint,” there are five steps:

  1. Ask for a meeting and suggest two options (e.g., “How about Monday at 10 or Wednesday at 2?” ).  It’s a good sign if the person selects the first option. Either the boss is a decent person or anxious to find out what’s on the employee’s mind.
  2. At the start of the meeting, give the person two strokes – two valid compliments. Even an abusive boss has two qualities worth mentioning. The extreme example I use in HR teamwork classes is Adolph Hitler, the world’s most notorious madman. Even Hitler could have been complimented for his cunning and for being an excellent orator, right? I suggested to the employee  –  in the event two qualities didn’t come to mind – then, the employee is culpable, too, because of  a negative or fearful attitude. Negative or fearful attitudes are manifested in poor work performance.  (What, if any of the supervisor’s criticism is valid?)
  3. Hand the supervisor the written response that includes steps 2-5 , starting with the compliments and mention how and why the boss  makes the employee feel uncomfortable. NOTE: Here’s where you insert your six complaints. (e.g. “I feel uncomfortable when…”).
  4. Then, tell the person what you want (e.g. “What I want is…”)
  5. Get a contract or an agreement by asking a simple question (e.g. “Are you willing to…?”). Then, pause and wait for the person to answer. If the person agrees, shake hands and watch for improvement. If the person says no, don’t make any threats but politely leave and head for the telephone to call the EEOC. Remember in adversarial situations,  never  give away your power by telegraphing your next move.

In the three decades I have used this assertive process – or taught it to others – it has always worked. True to form, the employee received a re-worded employee appraisal with the threat of termination deleted.

From the Coach’s Corner, here are more resources to deal with bosses: 

Nervous About Your New Boss? Here’s How to Deal with It — Whether you just got a new job or whether your company just assigned a new boss for you, it might seem hard to deal with it. But deal with it you must. Learn to develop poise and to manage your boss.

6 Tips for Baby Boomers to Cope with a Younger Boss — If you’re a gainfully employed baby boomer, please accept my congratulations on your good fortune. However, many boomers are saddled with a boss who is a young, less-experienced Millennial. That can be hard to take but it doesn’t have to be.

Dos and Don’ts: How to Advance Your Career via Your Boss’s Boss — You can improve your career prospects by maximizing your communications – with your boss’s boss — if you respect the process. Not only will such opportunities optimize your prospects, they will give you a broader perspective about upper management’s concerns and insights.

Proof Positive: How Supportive Spouses Help in Work-Related Stress — First, it was the book, “The Millionaire Mind.” The book by Dr. Thomas J. Stanley revealed several traits of millionaires. One important statistic from his study of millionaires: They were successful largely thanks to a supportive spouse.

10 Strategies to Overcome Stress and Energize Your Career If job stress is slowing you down, you can jumpstart your career with these 10 reminders.

“Show me a man who is a good loser and I’ll show you a man who is playing golf with his boss.”

– Jim Murray


Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.