Since You Put it That Way – 5 Tips for Dealing with a Verbally Abusive Boss

verbal and emotional abuse in the workplace

Patti’s alter ego?

If you missed quasi-celebrity and full-fledged entrepreneur boss Patti Stanger berating her stylist, then you don’t watch enough reality TV. And, you missed a great Working for Wonka learning moment. Hear it for youself on TMZ.

Here’s What Happened
Millionaire Matchmaker and entrepreneur boss, Patti Stanger, arrived at a fitting with her stylist and wasn’t happy with the selection. (For the guys: fitting = trying on clothes, stylist = person who picks pretty clothes.) I’ve watched enough Rachel Zoe to know that celebrities don’t always like the first dress a stylist shows them. But rarely does it turn into a confrontation like we see in Patti’s clip. Regardless of the stylist calm demeanor, or the attempts at solutions, there was no stopping the verbal beating that was coming. Patti was in fight mode.

Here’s Why it Happened
Simply put, it’s a matter of fight or flight. An area of the brain called the amygdala reacts to stress by triggering either a fight or flight response. By nature, entrepreneurs are fighters. They fight to make their ideas a reality everyday despite the inevitable stress. It’s the secret to their success; a willingness and tenacity to keep charging forward, no matter what. This means that in stressful situations, a Fighter Entrepreneur’s knee-jerk (heavy on the jerk) reaction will be to go to battle. The problem arises when the fight trigger can’t be controlled.

A Fight to the Death
Accompanying the fight response is a surge of adrenaline. A great example of this also comes from reality TV. Watch as New Jersey housewife Theresa looses control when her fight response is triggered.

For almost two full minutes she is incapable of regaining her composure! Toward the end of the clip her actions resemble a seizure. She just can’t stop the adrenaline.

Patti’s reaction was similar, albeit slightly more controlled. (Patti could at least string sentences together.) Patti made her point, rudely but clearly, early on. Yet she continued with the abuse. Like the New Jersey Housewife, she couldn’t stop the rush. Career fitness Coach Malcolm O. Munru suggests that this is a type of bullying in the workplace, and offers five ways to deal with this Fighter Entrepreneur:

1. Don’t try to calm them down.
When Patti’s stylist tries to cool the situation, Patti’s pitch raises notably and she screams “nooooo. I want you to understand what you did wrong!” It was already abundantly clear what the stylist had done wrong. But Fighter Entrepreneur Patti is still rushing with adrenaline and any attempt to calm her, simply amps her up.

2. Don’t try to rationalize with them.
When the fight response has been triggered, there is no rationalizing. Patti makes this clear when she starts the conversations with “Don’t talk!” Not a rational request among professional colleagues.

3. Don’t argue with them or further provoke them.
Threats typically fly during these types of rants. Patti issues several vague threats including “you’re never going to be a stylist” and “nobody has ever done that for you.” Joining in the fight will only make this worse.

4. Don’t try to win the argument.
You won’t.

5. Keep your cool.
Patti’s instructions “get your f’ing feelings out of the f’ing room” are words to live by. Although in this situation, she was the one in need of this advice.

Working for Wonka? Know this: The Fighter Entrepreneur lacks the ability to respect others. If this is your boss, run while you still can. Stuck there? Then develop thick skin and get ready to spend a lot of time in your mental happy place. And watch more reality TV.

Have you every worked for a Fighter Entrepreneur? What triggered them? How did you cope?

UPDATE: ( 9/8/2010) Robert Sutton, author of Good Boss, Bad Boss  says that abusive bosses (like Patti Stanger) foster ineffective employees. He cites a study that showed nurses who feared humiliation and punishment from supervisors didn’t report drug-treatment errors. We suggest that Patti’s stylist find one of these nurses and commiserate over a tranquilizer cocktail.


  • kathy reeves

    Reply Reply September 24, 2010

    OH MY WORD! This makes me feel better. I was in a meeting where I represented a creative agency making a promotional DVD. The main man suddenly went into fight mode (I now have a name for it) and just started screaming at me in front of the 12 people, from his team, about the approach to the project. I wanted to say “there are 5 marketing people, 4 movies specialist and an HD specialist from your team working on this, my opinion quit counting weeks ago”. I did say “you are speaking to me like I’m an idiot” For some reason that actually slowed him down a bit. I then tried to calm him down – now I understand that was a mistake. Any other suggestions for defending yourself, do you think hysterical laughter and twisting my hair would help?

    • admin

      Reply Reply September 24, 2010

      Kathy R: I took a self defense course once where I was told if attacked to act crazy. Drop to the ground and start eating grass. Howl at the moon. That kind of stuff. Not sure it is the best advice for either situation. Coach Munru’s advice may be best. Just let them be. Then start drinking before meetings.

  • Frank

    Reply Reply December 16, 2011

    “Let them be” isn’t good enough. You have to let them win. Cave in or face worse to come.

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