This email from a reader really got me fired up:
“I have a work issue that I am hoping you can help with. My boss is extremely disrespectful towards me and speaks to me like I am an idiot. I would like some ideas on how to turn this around – I feel like I get attacked (verbally) at least several times a week.”
Not cool! These situations are complex, and while I don’t know her specific circumstances, I wanted to pass along some thoughts on communicating with a disrespectful boss in a way that is diplomatic, but firm.
First: They may not be aware of how you are interpreting their tone.
It is perfectly acceptable to let them know that the way they’re communicating with you makes you feel disrespected. When you approach them on this, use ‘I’ statements.
For example, “When you speak to me in that tone, I feel like you are being disrespectful — is that your intent?”
Using an ‘I’ statement keeps them off the defensive, and asking if that’s their intent will tell you whether or not they even realize they’re doing it. Watch their body language for a more complete answer beyond the words they say.
If they don’t realize they’re being disrespectful, it’s time for you to set boundaries. You can let them know that you understand that they’re under stress, but that doesn’t negate the requirement of speaking to others professionally and respectfully. If they continue to treat and speak to you in that manner, you will walk away until they can communicate in a more professional way.
You may want to document the occurrences and keep a record. Remember that there is always the option of going to your HR department; it doesn’t need to be an official complaint, but that way someone else is aware of what’s going on. Always give the person a chance to fix it first, but remember that you have resources you can draw upon if you need them.
Following these suggestions can help you remember that you are able to set healthy workplace boundaries for yourself, and will allow you to have those difficult conversations with grace and poise.