Martha Stewart Living Radio: The Radio Blog

Career Advice with Maggie: Dealing with a Difficult Boss

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Dear Maggie,

I have a manager who is very disruptive and unprofessional in the office.  She has made inappropriate remarks to me about my appearance and job like a bully.  I just laugh nervously to avoid further problems.  This manager makes me feel uncomfortable but I don't know if I should discuss it with HR.  I have heard that HR always sides with management over the employee.

-Feel fear and frazzled in Ohio

Unfortunately laughing it off isn’t going to address your problem.   Going to Human Resources (HR) is an option but I’d try to work things out on your own first with the steps below.  There is a chance that this may all be a misunderstanding and that your boss is just a bad communicator not a bully.

  1. Track. Keep track of the remarks your boss makes for a week. Be sure to document what’s said, when and where.
  2. Analyze. Review the frequency, timing and content of her remarks.  Are they constant? Or do they tend to happen when your boss is stressed (i.e. for an upcoming board meeting)?  Does your boss comment in front of others so that she can look better?  Also, what about your appearance does your boss tend to comment on?   Is it about how you can look more professional or something more personal?
  3. Get a Third Party. Enlist an objective third party to review your findings. Use a mentor, a coach or even a friend.  Ask them to determine if the remarks are inappropriate or bullying.   You can also ask a professional employment attorney like Robin Bond (a frequent guest on Making a Living) to weigh in.

If you find your boss is just really taking out her stress on you or doesn’t know how to communicate feedback without sounding mean, then you have a choice.  You can address the situation with a productive conversation with your manager (and bring to light your findings.)

Letting your boss know that you value the working relationship, are concerned about her recent comments and want to address the situation is both positive and productive.

Your boss is not your enemy but rather is your best ally in moving forward in the organization productively.   Even if your boss doesn’t agree to change her ways you can rest assured knowing that you gave it your best efforts.  You will also know what to look for in your next manager!

But, if you find your boss’s comments are inappropriate and may even border on harassment, it makes sense to get the input of HR.  From the harassment awareness training I’ve attended, there are workplace actions that are not only inappropriate but are also illegal.  Your HR department may offer training or guidelines on the company intranet about appropriate behavior.

For more on working with a difficult boss, read my advice on “How to Love the Job You’re In” in the February issue of Shape magazine.   To get inspired to overcome challenges in your career, tune into Making a Living this Friday at 4pm ET/1pm PT for my interview with 2006 Olympic Medalist in Figure Skating, Sasha Cohen!


Comments (4)

  • About three months ago (November) I heard an interview with a woman who wrote a book about dealing with a bad boss/manager something to that regard. Any way, if you could pass the name of the Author and book title to me I would be grateful.

    Have a great day & week,

  • Develop your interview skills to outperform the competition.

  • Hi Carolyn,
    Thanks for tuning into Making a Living. You are correct. I interview two wonderful authors of a book called, "Working for you isn't working for me." Their names are Kathi Elster and Katherine Crowley.

    Here is a direct link to their site:

    I definitely recommend the book. Good luck!
    All the best,

  • You have got good writing skills. I am impressed that you are putting good efforts in your work. Keep doing.

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