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Professionals gone wild: what to do when your boss swears at you

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There is much that can be learned from all the news unfolding from the Anthony Weiner campaign. In addition to the political fallout from his sexting, there is also a lesson in appropriate professional behaviour. Weiner’s communication aide went into a profanity laced tirade against an intern who wrote an unflattering piece in the Daily News about the campaign and Weiner. Although at first she laughed it off in a tweet, she has since apologized to the intern, which brings me to my point: What do you do when your boss swears at you?{{more}}

In my first real professional job, I had a boss who decided to drop quite a few f-bombs in a phone conversation, as we tried to decide how to handle a situation. This was before it became common for TV shows to bleep out every other word when people swear. I was shocked and scared at the same time. I knew I had to say something, but what do you say? I was new on the job and desperately needed the work and money. Would she fire me for speaking up? I quickly collected my thoughts and, with a pit in my stomach, I overheard myself saying, “Would you mind if we did not use profanity in our conversations?” Surprised, she agreed with a quick brash “fine.” It never happened again.

So, what do you do if your boss decides to unleash a profanity filled attack on you? There are a number of things to consider. In some industries and some companies, it’s not uncommon for co-workers and bosses to regularly use profanity as a part of their conversation and no one seems to care; however, that is not the case in many companies.

It’s Not About You: Bosses who use profanity to express themselves are in fact attacking morale and creating a hostile work environment. Their behaviour is a poor reflection of their management skills, and in essence this behaviour is workplace bullying. Even if their tantrum is a direct response to an error you made, there are other ways to address the issue that are more civil.

Speak Up: Although many may argue against speaking up, it can become stressful and unbearable having to go to work and endure the profanity tantrums of a boss. It affects your productivity, creativity and your peace of mind. Wait for the dust to settle before approaching your boss so you can have a calm conversation and let that person know the effects of their behaviour.

Document and Report: If the behaviour persists and there is no change after repeated requests, then document it and look carefully at the company’s complaint protocol and the track record for addressing complaints. What you find will help you to make an informed decision about the next steps.

Polish Your Résumé: If the boss is also the owner of the company and you’ve made repeated attempts to address the behaviour, then you may have to consider a career move. This is a big step for some people, especially if jobs are not plentiful or there is a long tenure with the company. Exhaust other efforts before you consider leaving.

Karen Hinds is “The Workplace Success Expert.”
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