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The Road To Fort Worth

Read » Chapter 8: Danville

Working For A Bullying Boss

I once worked as a project manager for a home builder on a barrier island accessible only by boat or airplane. Part of my job included running a skiff over the water to the island on the southwest coast of Florida. I was in contact with my boss on a daily basis on the telephone, and he toured the building sites on the island about once a week. Although we had contracts with a wealthy clientele, the company began lose business during the recession. My boss made some expensive errors in estimating prices and a few very costly engineering mistakes, and as time went on, the company faced bankruptcy.

My boss became increasingly intimidating toward me with outbursts that increased in frequency from once a month to a couple times a week. His rants were extremely caustic and included degrading remarks and accusations that weren't factual. I learned quickly that any response that I made was an exercise in futility, so I didn't answer or defend myself. I had never been the target of a bully, and it took some time for me to understand what was really happening.

I made several attempts to discuss the problem with my boss long after his anger had subsided. Often, his reply was to not take it personally. But it was personal. I was working for a man who was extremely insecure and used words as weapons to vent his unhappiness.

Although I knew that his accusations were false, I was still the target of his tirades. I became aware of why I felt so badly after he concluded his rants. My mind sensed the presence of danger and alerted my body to prepare itself to either fight or run. The flow of adrenaline increased, and my heart beat faster, but I couldn't run and I wouldn't fight. It was my boss screaming after all, and I felt trapped. I had to remain calm if I wanted to continue to get a paycheck. The economy was weak, and I'm at an age when finding a job for the same amount of money would have been difficult, if not impossible to do.

Verbal abuse is not illegal as long as it doesn't contain threats of violence or violate the Civil Rights Amendment. If it were illegal, it would be difficult to prove. Who would the defense call for witnesses, co-workers? They would feel intimidated in testifying for fear of losing their jobs.

Bullies have an innate sense of who they can and cannot intimidate. I wasn't the sole object of his anger, but I noticed that there were some employees that he didn't target. They were the kind of people that would have walked off the job after the first confrontation. The fact that I continued to work for him, in spite of his behavior, was a confirmation in his mind that he could continue to verbally abuse me.

The only successful way of dealing with most bullies is to end the relationship. Very few bullies change their ways. My job ended when my boss declared bankruptcy, leaving me without an income and without the hope of recovering the money he still owed to me. I would have been far better off financially to terminate my employment years ago when his rants began. I would have avoided the emotional burden of trying to deal with a dynamic that was intolerable as well as unchangeable.

I know that I will never again allow someone to intimidate me. It is a method that a bully uses to try to control someone. No job is worth the emotional distress. Next time, I would simply say, "This is the last time that you will ever be able to verbally abuse me." If the bullying continued, I would follow through with my promise by ending the relationship.

Copyright ©2012 Michael Jackson Smith

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