Q. I have a boss who thinks it's all about her. She puts her staff on the defensive. Her favorite strategy is to ask a minor question and...

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Q. I have a boss who thinks it’s all about her. She puts her staff on the defensive. Her favorite strategy is to ask a minor question and then no matter how I answer, complain and make accusations to put me in my place. How do I not get trapped by her?

A. You can avoid getting trapped by her by not fighting her attacks.

The truth is other people can have any opinion they want of us without actually damaging anything about who we really are. If your boss asked a question and then went on about how purple your hair was, would you get into a verbal sparring match?

Almost of all us get hooked when someone looks at us and says some sentence that we hear as meaning:

• You are bad!

• You are inadequate!

People who bully effectively often manage to insinuate both of these concepts into the same sentence. Realize that these people have learned that most people become mindless when their self-esteem is attacked. Now imagine if instead you disappoint her by not playing.

Pause next time your boss asks you her set-up question. Instead of answering, ask her to clarify what she wants. If she says, “What time did you get to work?” then you can ask, “Are you concerned about my schedule?” If she then adds, “Yes, you’re lazy and lie about your hours,” remain calm and paraphrase every accusation.

The one thing self-absorbed people can’t stand is being embarrassed. Believe it or not, when you defend yourself, these folks feel justified. If instead you hold up a verbal mirror to their bad behavior, they feel silly and slow down.

If you think you’re gaining ground by explaining your behavior — think again. First of all, your boss isn’t listening. Second (repeat after me), innocent people do not defend themselves.

Of course you can anticipate continuing to be upset internally by your boss going after your self-worth. Outside of work, feel free to write nasty letters and vent to your friends. At work, stop rewarding her by responding. It takes two to play a game but only one to stop it.

The last word(s)

Q. My co-worker likes to hover over my shoulder when I’m working on my computer. How can I tell him to back off?

A. Let him know it makes you nervous when someone is that close to you when you’re typing. If he does it again, stop typing, repeat your statement, and don’t resume until he leaves.

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., is an executive coach, trainer, therapist, speaker and author of “Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything” (Hay House, 2006). She can be reached at 1420 N.W. Gilman Blvd., No. 2845, Issaquah, WA 98027-7001; by e-mail at interpersonaledge@comcast.net; or at www.interpersonaledge.com. Sorry, no personal replies. To read other Daneen Skube columns, go to www.seattletimes.com/daneenskube