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People treat you the way you allow them to treat you—and this includes the insane head honcho in your office.

We’ve talked about monster bosses before, and because it’s such a sensitive issue for so many, we’re bringing it back up for an in-depth look at how to handle your boss and keep them from trampling all over you.

Say your boss leaves for weeks at a time, then comes back, calls you into the office and rips you a new one. Or he cuts your hours after you tattle on another employee for doing something that hurts the business. And when you point this out to their boss, your complaints are ignored.

The stories may be different, but in the end, it all culminates in you feeling deflated, dejected and angry at your boss for treating you so unfairly. Your job becomes less about kicking ass and doing the best work you can and more about managing your boss’s out-of-control personality.

Here’s the kicker: you’re actually missing plenty of opportunities to stand up for yourself and make the situation right.

Don’t believe us? Well, what do you do when you get verbally smacked around by your boss? You either:

  • a) come home and complain to (or take it out on) your spouse or partner
  • b) act nice and take it, saying nothing and letting them walk all over you, or
  • c) you react, talk back and exacerbate the situation.

But there’s a better way to respond—one that flips the situation right-side up. A way to stop feeling nauseous every time you go to work because you know you’ll have to face your boss. A way to stop living in fear and contempt and take a constructive approach. And the first step is to internalize the truism mentioned earlier: you’re only treated the way you let others treat you.

Although no work relationship can be segregated into simply black and white terms, most of the tension with your boss can fall into two categories: you’re either trying to be “nice,” and are afraid to make any waves at the office, thus allowing yourself to be trampled on; or you’re too aggressive, overreacting because of past experience with a terrible boss who took advantage of your silence.

Here’s how to handle both of these situations:

Change your understanding of nice: If you’re too accepting when your boss treats you unfairly because you’re afraid you’ll lose your job if you stand up for yourself, it’s time reevaluate what it means to be “nice” in a work environment. Maybe you came out a little strong when you first began working and were reprimanded for it. Maybe you’re just diffident. But you’re certainly not nice because you fear for you job—you’re nice because you want to be nice, because you’re wrapped up in the act. Here’s the thing: nice gets you no respect, no pay raise, and keeps you at the status quo. It’s passive-destructive: while you’re bowing your head at work, you’re yelling it off at home. It’s time to change your understanding of what it means to be nice.

Ask yourself if you’re overreacting: Did your previous acquiescence make you determined not to take any more guff from your future employers? Here’s the good side of this: you’re not afraid to take action and you don’t bite your tongue anymore when treated unfairly. The bad? Instead of fear, you’re expressing anger, something equally destructive as complacency. Instead of reacting to what’s in front of you, you’re basing your responses on past experiences, which can lead you to lash out for no reason.

If you’re struggling to find the right balance between naughty and nice, here are three simple steps to follow to get you on the path to a healthier work relationship:

1.  Forget what you know about confrontations: Confrontation is made out to be a dirty, taboo word in the workplace due to its connotations of screaming, yelling and general wrong-making. But all it means is having a conversation with somebody about something that needs to change, or that they might disagree with. You’re confronting an issue and you’re dealing with it. A confrontation is proactive, not reactive.

2.  Stop trying to be right: We’ve discussed this before, and it’s just as vital here as in any other situation. You can’t sett out to make your boss suffer, and you can’t play the gotcha game. This is not about you being right, this is about having a good relationship with your boss.

3.  Have an authentic conversation: This is not about accusing anybody, and it’s not about outputting your anger. If you’ve been experiencing some recent tension with your boss, tell them, “Listen, I think there’s some tension here, but I’d prefer to work it out and have a great work relationship. Can you tell me what’s going on?” Calmly explain to your boss how you would like them to deal with a similar situation next time.

Your boss might run the office, but YOU are always in control of your office relationships. Don’t let complacency or aggression get the best of you—you are the only one who gets to decide how others treat you.

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