A workplace should never be an intimidating environment. Even one intimidating person in an office can foster conflict, stifle creativity, and make a company less desirable to work at. Continue reading to learn more about the harm intimidation can cause, as well as how to handle intimidation and how to deal with an aggressive boss or manager.
The Dark Side of an Intimidating Workplace
Lack of Trust Between Workers
Teams work at their best when there is a foundation of trust between workers. Intimidation, either from a boss or someone else on the team, causes conflict, competition, and distrust.
No one will feel comfortable speaking up about an idea they have for fear of being called out by those they feel intimidated by. Employees also won’t trust each other enough to work together efficiently. That means lower productivity and a workplace that’s constantly on edge.
💡 We published a full article on How to Build Trust in the Workplace. Learn how to build trust around a workplace, how to build trust with employees, and how to regain trust once it’s lost.
Out of Touch Management
When employees are intimidated by management, they are less likely to be open and honest about how they feel and what’s really going on around the office. Inciting fear in employees doesn’t make them work harder—it just makes them hide the truth.
No one will come to you with a problem, and your employees will be more likely to make up an excuse or lie for fear of being met with aggression. Intimidation should never come to mind when employees think about management; as long as it does, your team won’t be on the same page, and you won’t have a clue about what’s really going on in the workplace.
People are Afraid to Fail
Aggression and intimidation aren’t going to prevent failure. If anything, they will only lead to more significant, unmanaged mistakes. An anxious employee will be afraid to tell anyone about a mistake, which could result in a much larger problem down the line.
Failure is an important part of learning and growing. If your team is afraid of failing, they will never grow, they won’t try anything new, and they will be slow to adopt new technologies. An intimidating environment will only hide failures from management and make employees less likely to be honest about their work.
Stifled Innovation and Creativity
No one is going to speak up about a brand new idea if they feel intimidated at work. It only takes one intimidating person on a team to completely stifle creativity.
Innovation comes from comfortable, encouraging environments where team members trust each other as well as those in leadership positions. Not every idea is going to be golden, but if every innovation lives and dies in an employee’s imagination without ever being uttered out loud, your business will never evolve.
How to Handle Intimidation at Work
Address Intimidation Early On
In some cases, addressing intimidation early on can stop it in its tracks. If you feel a coworker is behaving in an aggressive or intimidating way, speak to them soon after to prevent the behavior from continuing. They may not even know their words or actions were intimidating to you or others in your workplace. After all, some people naturally speak more bluntly than others, and it’s important that you make it clear how you prefer to be communicated with.
Speak to Management or HR
If you feel uncomfortable addressing the person directly or they did not do anything to curb their intimidating behavior after you addressed it with them, you should speak to your manager or HR department.
Be prepared with details surrounding the words or actions of the person who is being intimidating. Ideally, leadership will be glad to hear about this since they are striving to have an intimidation-free, productive work environment where everyone is comfortable.
In cases where management or the head boss is being intimidating, you will need to handle it in other ways. See below for our advice on how to deal with intimidating or aggressive leadership.
Keep a Journal
Keeping a journal about intimidating moments at work has two benefits. By documenting what happened immediately after it occurs, you will better be able to recall the details of an incident. This will be helpful if you need to take these details to management later on. Memories fade and become jumbled the further away we get from the actual event, so having documentation of what happened will help you remember the specifics with certainty and accuracy.
Journaling is also a form of meditation that can help you deal with intimidating situations at work. The act of journaling reduces stress, depressive symptoms, and anxiety. If you are feeling any stress, conflict, or discomfort at work, begin keeping a journal about those feelings and the events that lead to those feelings. Even if you don’t need to use your notes as a reference later on, the act of putting your feelings to paper is cathartic.
“My Boss is Mean to Me”: Stop the Gossip
As tempting as it may be when you’re feeling hurt, avoid gossiping to your coworkers about other people in your workplace. If someone is acting out of line, speak to them or speak to management, not the rest of your teammates.
Speaking openly about how your coworker or boss is mean to you will not solve the issue, and it will make you sound like you are gossiping about the people you work with. You never know how conversations will spread across the office. You wouldn’t want your boss to hear from someone else that you’ve been telling everyone how mean they are to you. It’s best to speak to them directly or bring it up through the proper HR channels, not in the break room.
What’s in Your Circle of Control?
There’s only so much control you have over intimidating work environments. You can’t control the actions of others, and if it’s your boss or manager that’s being intimidating, the issue runs deeper in the company than anything you will be able to fix yourself.
We all crave control over our lives, but there are plenty of things that are completely out of our control. Recognizing what is inside and outside of your circle of control helps combat stress and provides a sense of purpose. Learn more about your Circle of Control and How to Combat Lack of Control at Work.
Consider Your Employment Options
If you have done everything you can to mitigate intimidation at work without any relief, it may be time to consider other employment. This is the risk a business faces if management allows an intimidating or aggressive work environment to continue unimpeded. People will begin to look elsewhere for work, and it will become difficult to recruit quality candidates.
Ensure your job search is kept private so that you don’t jeopardize your current position. Begin to look for opportunities in your industry, and, if necessary, consider a different career path. Look for jobs that show fast growthand find out what you would need to do to make the switch possible.
How to Deal with Aggressive Boss or Manager
Why is My Boss so Mean to Me?
If you have a mean or aggressive boss, begin by trying to understand why they are acting that way. The reason certainly doesn’t justify their poor behavior, but it will help you manage their expectations and mood. Is there a part of the day you notice they become particularly stressed? Maybe they are more approachable after lunch or their second cup of coffee.
Learn more about how and when they like to communicate to give yourself the best chance at a friendly encounter. Do they prefer to meet in person, or would they rather receive an email? Do they want you to come to them with small issues, or do they prefer you try to tackle those issues on your own first?
What to Do When Your Boss is Rude
Do your best not to react in the moment to rude behavior at work, especially when it comes from your boss. If you have an HR department you can speak to, ensure you bring it up professionally through the right protocols. Rude language and harassment should not be tolerated in the workplace, and, hopefully, HR will be able to address the issue for you.
If you feel you are in a poisonous work environment that is unwilling to change, you either need to manage your own expectations or begin looking for work elsewhere. Unfortunately, toxic workplaces still exist and they can be resistant to change.
How to Respond to a Rude Email From Your Boss
Never respond to a rude email in the moment. Take time away from the negativity to process your emotions and decide how to proceed. Your boss likely sent the email in a heated moment before taking the time to think through their tone or the emotions leading their decision making.
Be the bigger person and don’t retaliate with your own rudeness or aggression. Craft an email carefully, and read it over a few times to look for typos or unintentional aggression. If you are addressing a larger issue, it may be best to request a meeting with your boss in person to ensure nothing is miscommunicated by email.
What to Do About Intimidation From Leadership
In a perfect world, intimidation at work will be squashed out quickly by speaking to management or your HR department, but what happens when the intimidation is coming from your boss? In these cases, there is very little you can do other than managing your own actions, feelings, and expectations.
Understand what you have control over and what is out of your control. If management is leading with intimidation, know that they are wrong, but you need to be the bigger person for the sake of your job. Practice self-care and small meditations such as journaling, walking, and breathing exercises. Feeling confident in your own skin will help you handle other people’s poor behavior.
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