How to communicate with an overbearing boss

boss employee

Many people struggle in the workplace due to their ‘stick it to the (wo)man’ attitude. But the best way to communicate effectively with a challenging boss is by being assertive.

There are times when employees, to their detriment, respond to an overbearing boss with aggression or passive aggression.

Passive-aggressive workers tend to express negative feelings indirectly – for instance, by putting minimal effort into assigned tasks, showing up late for work, and taking up more sick days.

Aggressive workers, on the other hand, respond to difficult circumstances by communicating in a rude, stubborn or hostile manner, often believing it’s the only way to be heard.

But both approaches are ineffective in that they only increase tension in the office, create unnecessary enemies, and overall, worsen an ambiguous situation.

Whereas those who practice assertive communication, end up negotiating their way through a difficult situation and ultimately get what they want.

It is important to understand that being assertive does not equate to being passive. Rather, it allows people to stand up for themselves in a respectable manner, and be heard. When done properly, their views generate positive results.

Some of the benefits of being assertive include:

  • Open and honest communication in the workplace
  • Healthier work environment
  • Effective negotiation where all parties get what they want
  • Greater respect and recognition
  • Self-confidence

Now that we know why we should be assertive, here are 5 tips on how to be assertive:

1. Learn to control your emotions and not take things personally

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by frustration, anger and disappointment, excuse yourself from the office and let yourself calm down before returning. Lack of emotional control is seen as a sign of weakness and can have serious negative consequences, including being sacked. While you’re calming down, think carefully about how you can express your view in a respectful manner.

2. Pick the right battles

Hold your tongue unless you are absolutely sure it is an issue worth pursuing. For instance, if your boss is having a bad day and is being short-tempered, don’t bother reacting at all. The situation will pass. Only if there is a serious issue where you feel you are being taken advantage of, or you have a serious disagreement with a decision that has been made, should you address it.

3. Use positive body language

There’s no point in trying to be assertive if your body language communicates otherwise. Slumping your shoulders and lack of eye contact looks like you don’t care about what anyone else has to say. Sticking out your chest and putting your hands on your hips looks like you’re trying communicate your superiority. Your facial expressions also say a lot about what you really think, so relax your face and try to be positive or neutral.

4. Don’t gossip – be direct and honest about an issue

Complaining about an issue behind a person’s back will not change the problem. Remember the game Chinese Whispers? There is a good chance people will spread the information around and it will reach the ear of the boss, and it will sound quite different to what you originally said.

So rather than gossiping about an issue, address it directly with the boss or colleague in question. Prepare your argument and express it as clearly as possible with an even toned voice.

5. Set clear boundaries

Setting clear boundaries will impact the way the boss or your colleagues behave around you. Find opportunities to make sure people know what you like and dislike, so they can abide by your expectations. If you feel you have been clear, but boundaries are still crossed, it’s time to be direct and assertive about the problem.