How To Handle A Mean Boss

Oftentimes, leaders in high-ranking positions can be highly intelligent, but condescending and hard to work with. Have you ever had a boss who was downright mean at times?

Perhaps their people skills suck, to say the least. He seems to be fine with his patients, but the staff is terrified of him.

For self-preservation we tend to default into a state of "sucking it up" or feeling like "this is what it's like in the big leagues." We feel like we have to assimilate to this level of toxicity or this level of leadership/business/management just isn't for you.

You must not be cut out for the big time if you can't deal with a little heat. Ever feel that way?

I know exactly the paradox you are speaking of.

It’s a mind bender to experience someone who is so intelligent and is so good at their expertise and yet, so terrible at truly connecting with those around them. The sad fact is, this is more common than not. Doctors, amongst other professions, often suffer from a more than healthy amount of ego. This results in support staff feeling unseen and undervalued for their part in the overall success. There’s a certain kind of leader that vastly under-values support staff, now matter how great they are.

It’s all part of the bigger crisis unfolding in business: Toxic workplaces.

Somehow, we live in a world where treating people poorly is acceptable. Not only is it acceptable, it’s practically expected. It gets protected in all kinds of ways and clever phrases like “this is how it is in the big leagues” or “you need to grow thicker skin”.

Who wants thicker skin? No one wants to be like a callus.

It’s not the thickness of the skin that needs to be changed, but rather the boundaries that we uphold for ourselves.

When you consistently experience someone being mean to you, how are you addressing the unacceptable behavior? Do you address it? Do you let it slide?

This is the perfect place for a crunchy conversation and some clear boundary setting. There is an art to having this conversation effectively, that very few can master on their own.

When you can firmly uphold your boundaries around how someone treats you, in a way that is unapologetic, grounded and disarming, you are on your way to greatness.

Most people won’t stand up for themselves because they are scared. Scared of being fired or retaliated against or the treatment getting even worse.

But here’s the thing, living life being terrified that if you stand up for being treated with human decency causes you to worry about being fired or facing even more grief from your boss isn’t living at all. In fact, it’s a recipe for dying. If that’s the case, then it’s time to polish up your interviewing skills and get your resume updated.

No job, no matter how much money they pay you, is worth giving up being treated with dignity and respect.

So be clear, firm and compassionate when you communicate your boundaries. If you need a dose of confidence before you have this conversation, here’s a free copy of my Crunchy Conversations Toolkit. It will help you prepare to have the conversation with your boss in a way you feel good about. You’ll either move closer to the working environment that you want, or you’ll get the clarity you need in order to move on to the next adventure, where you are valued and appreciated.

What to do when you realize you work for a mean boss.

First, it’s important to do a little digging in. I know, it may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s important and will properly inform your next move.

Does he want to be a mean boss whose team is terrified of him? Does he know that’s who he is? Likely, the answer is No.

You have the unique opportunity to lead and manage upwards. Leaders rarely get feedback up the chain. The question is, does your boss want to be a better leader?

If you aren’t sure, here are 5 keys to determine if it’s worth your time and energy to invest in your boss, or if it’s time to start updating your resume.


Assess your boss. Typically, people fall into 1 of 2 categories; Fixed Mindset or Growth Mindset. Start paying attention to which type your boss is. Here are 5 signs to look for:


  1. Does your boss’ words, actions and beliefs match? Are they aligned?

  2. Do they say one thing and do the other?

If your boss talks about how he values his team but then his action shows differently, then there’s hope for change. At least his mindset is one of appreciation.


How do they respond when you call their attention to an area they can do better?

Do they receive your input?

If your boss is open to your suggestions and asks you clarifying questions, this is an excellent sign. There is definite hope for change.


  1. Do they acknowledge their “shortfalls”?

  2. Do they thank you for the input?

  3. Do they get mad or angry with you?

  4. Do they turn it around on you and how you need to improve?


  1. Do they always talk about the bottom line?

  2. Are they appropriately customer-centric?

  3. Are they also talking about quality of life at work for their team?


Do they demonstrate genuine care for the staff? For clients? For others in general?

Once you’ve spent some time noticing these areas, determine if this is someone that you want to invest in.

Are they focused on growing and becoming a better leader and human?

Have they shown themselves to be someone that you want to spend your time with on a daily basis?

If so, it’s time to have one of those crunchy conversations. If not, then it’s time to polish up your resume and start looking for an organization that better aligns with your values.

It’s not about “not being able to hang in the big leagues” or not. It’s about being at choice in where you pour in your time, commitment and dedication. If you are going to give the best parts of yourself, you want to feel good about it.

You don’t want to waste precious time working with a$$holes who are ok with being a$$holes.

If that’s the case, it isn’t the environment for you. Think of it as black licorice. It an acquired taste. You are either a fan of it or not. There is no need to feel guilty about choosing to opt out of a toxic environment.

Organizations with great leadership will adopt a strict "no a$$hole rule" and create a culture of growth mindset.

Growth or Fixed Mindset?

When we really simplify things, people fall into 2 different categories-- willing to grow or being fixed in their ways. Of course, there is a spectrum within that. Some may be willing to grow on the end of no resistance. These people are genuinely open, not only willing to listen to feedback, but they regularly solicit it and make adjustments accordingly. Their growth is a transformation that takes place in front of your eyes.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are those that are willing to grow but exhibit massive amounts of resistance before surrendering to the growth opportunity. These people will often shut down comments that are directed at their areas of “opportunities”. They will defend their position or spend a lot of energy proving they are “right”. After a period of time, they will eventually make the changes necessary.

Then, there are those that won’t change. They are not open to it. At all.

If you ever find yourself in a situation where your boss is doing something that you cannot stand, and they are not willing to change at all, do yourself a favor. Find a new job as soon as possible and get out. Staying in a toxic environment with leadership who isn’t willing to change at all dooms you to a lot of stress and overwhelm.


If you currently work for a mean boss, how do you respond to them at those times? Do you allow them to treat you that way? Do you speak up for yourself?

Hey, no judgement here no matter what your answer is! This is the power of noticing. Without getting crystal clear about the reality is, you have no power to change it.

If you are finding that you haven’t been setting strong enough boundaries, here’s a few lines for you to try on. Take them and modify them for yourself however feels correct for you.

“When you ___(fill in the blank -- descriptive behaviors, be specific and direct)_____

It makes me feel like ___(fill in the blank -- be specific. It’s ok to be vulnerable here)___

Is that the impact you wanted to have?**

An Example: When you say things like my 7 year old kid could do that

It makes be feel like I’m inadequate. Is that the impact you wanted to have?

**Be sure to step in to a place of curiosity when asking that last question. If it comes across sounding like an accusation, it will put the other person on the defensive. Coming from a place of curiosity is non-threatening. It creates openness and a sense of spaciousness, allowing the other person to show up human too.

If crunchy conversations make you queasy, or you'd like a pep talk to prep for one that you're planning to have, reach out to me today and schedule your complimentary coaching session!

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