Career Tips Over Coffee:  How Do You Handle an Offensive Boss?

Blog Post created by susan.hodge Champion on Apr 20, 2017

A woman came to me to talk about her offensive boss.  He had made inappropriate jokes, was crude and disrespectful to her.  He was a person of influence in the company.


If you stay in business long enough, you’ll come across people like this.  How do you handle them?


First I want to say that what follows is not meant to cover egregious, physical or sexual abuse situations.  Those are much more serious than what we’re talking about here and call for a stronger approach.


But if you’re dealing with the obnoxious, disrespectful or offensive individual there are some things you can try before it gets more serious.


In a sensitive situation where we feel we are being personally attacked, we can let emotions override logic.  I’ve seen women assume the first step should be to report the individual through the formal channels or make the situation public, relying on the “system” to make it right.  This does not always work.  We hope the right thing would be done, but there can be reluctance to deal with a person in a position of power.  In fact, escalating the issue or making it widespread can backfire if you’re not strategic in your approach.


When dealing with highly emotional and sensitive issues, you must be strategic in your approach.


I have found that a direct, rational approach to the offensive individual can often bring him or her into line. 


Early in my career my boss was making inappropriate advances to me.  He was getting too physically close and subtly finding ways of touching me, all very clearly inappropriate yet just short of crossing a line that I could explain and defend to a third party.


I prepared myself for a conversation with him.  I went into his office, kept the door open and said to him, “You may not be aware, but you have been approaching me in a way that invades my personal space.”  I then described the behaviors and told him it made me uncomfortable.  “I am asking you to stop doing this.”  Just like that.  Simple, rational and clear.


He was taken aback that I had called him on his behavior. He apologized, claimed he had no idea (which I let go) and it stopped.


Smart individuals, acting inappropriately, don’t want to be “found out”, which is what gives you influence in the situation. 


Had it not stopped, I would have strategically selected an influential advisor from whom to seek guidance.   Had that not yielded results, I would have chosen more formal channels.


Whether dealing with an offensive boss or making a request for an overdue raise or promotion, our emotions can get in the way of our strategy. There are steps you can take to clear the emotions and make your requests heard in an effective manner.  In my recent Communicate to Advance workshop we covered the skill of making difficult requests at work.  Watch the Pink Petro space and/ or contact me for the next workshop on this skill.


How have you handled offensive people?