Oftentimes, a bullying boss (we’ll call him “mini boss”) is bullied in turn by his own boss (we’ll call this one “big boss”) which causes him (or her for that matter, I remind that when using he I refer both to male and female persons) to lash out on you and your coworkers even harder.
Where does that leave the people under them? Either in deep trouble or just on the front row seat of a thriller? I vote for the first one. No matter how reasonable your bullied boss might be, you risk getting caught in the middle of their fight because what does a boss need to do to show that he’s the boss? Right, prove authority over his staff! And what will the bully boss of the bullied boss do? Everything to undermine that authority. He will go over the mini boss and ask you directly to do this and that or ask you for information to attack the other one. In such relationships what the bully boss will ask you to do might be fundamentally different from what your bullied mini boss will want you to do.
So how could you land on your own feet in this case?
First thing is to be transparent. If you’re asked by your boss’ boss to do something the first one should know about it. You should also politely let the big boss know that you will not keep this a secret from your mini boss. For a more reasonable person, I would say go talk to the mini boss in person. But for a bully however you either try to get them both in a meeting but this can be very time consuming and not appropriate, or you do it in writing. Send them both an email summarising what the higher boss asked you to do and until when. Make sure you make it sound professional and focused on the task and results, not just like you’re looking to have a written proof of the thing. It is fair, it shows respect and loyalty and it ensures they both know about your workload. It also helps you to know clearly what is is expected from you, it’s a bit like a contract if you want. Your mini boss will probably feel like his boss is stepping on his toes but this is not your concern or fight. It’s up to him to take the intrusion it up with his own boss.
You should also copy them both for any updates on your work or when you deliver the task.
However, when your direct boss asks you to do something you should normally not put his boss in copy of your correspondence unless he was already copied by others. It will turn him defensive or even worse, aggressive.
Honor your integrity. If the big boss asks you for information against the mini boss resist the temptation to offer it on a golden plate. Don’t accept to be his spy, this is not your fight, refuse him politely and excuse yourself from the conversation. It’s fair, it demonstrates integrity and will keep you conscience clean. Most of the times the big boss will respect you for your integrity and let you be. Sometimes he might want to seek revenge but chances are he’s already very busy with the bigger fish, that is your mini boss, so he will not bother you for long. But if you accept to play his game you will just be one more pawn that he will use and dump when no longer needed.
Many people build careers on the misery of others, many in your shoes would accept to be the man inside just to get a career jump once the mini boss is out of the picture. But would you like to be in your mini boss’ shoes? Harassers always need a victim and once one is out of the way they line another one up. It will generally not be someone who can stand up to them and resist the offer to give inside information. Their victim needs to be trapped, not someone who can easily find their own way. If you accepted to do something dishonest for him you will be more obliged than you might care to admit and his grip over you will be stronger. Don’t give him that opportunity.
To be continued …