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Bosses who are bullies or tyrants may be liabilities to the institutions for which they work. Complaints occasionally escalate into lawsuits about unfair labor practices; charges are made of discrimination, wrongful termination, or unlawful discharge. But in too many workplaces, bully bosses are too powerful or too essential to the institution to be challenged. As a result they continue, sometimes for years, to make life miserable for those who work under them. For employees, these bosses are disastrous to morale and productivity. No one doubts that it is hard for people to work at their best when they feel unvalued and are treated disrespectfully, but it is not always clear what to do.


While the classic Exchange process itself may not be the vehicle for working with victims of bully bosses, techniques from The Exchange can be helpful. The focused attention of a private meeting, the demonstrated understanding of a non-judgmental paraphrase, and the power of a sincere acknowledgment are all helpful in de-escalating the high emotions that these employees are living with.

Being helped to realistically examine their options enables employees who are victims of bully bosses to make choices that support their interests and that promise relief from the ongoing stress of the status quo. Often the sense of there being no choices and of being powerless is what has paralyzed the employee. Plans for the future or new projects have been put on hold and an accompanying sense of the futility of doing anything can mire one into depression. Having a reasoned discussion with a trained Exchange facilitator may go a long way to restoring the employee's sense of competence. Making a decision allows the employee to begin the rest of his or her life.


How can The Exchange be used to deal with the huge power imbalance between a bully boss and an employee? It depends on a number of circumstances, including:

  • Who wants the process—the boss or the employee?

  • What is the realistic prognosis that the boss will be open to change?

  • What will happen to the employee if there is no change in the status quo?

  • How much power does the boss have?

  • Can the boss fire the employee?

  • Who is the boss's boss?

Esther Cabrera, an employee in the Food Services Department at St. Sonia's Hospital, was facing a dilemma in regard to her "bully boss," Emily Smith. At the suggestion of a coworker after a recent incident, she called Drew Johnson, her voice shaking with the stress she was under. His reputation for fairness as director of Employee Relations gave Esther some faint hope that the situation could be improved. Her hope was that Mr. ...

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