Q. My boss is out to get me. I have more experience than she does. She’s threatened by my work, and my solid community of friends and supporters. She undermines me, and keeps me from gaining exposure to senior leadership. I’m considering going to HR to talk about this situation, but I’m reluctant to take that step. What do you think?
Kathy Caprino: Almost everyone who has worked for a significant time has experienced this problem – the feeling that a boss or colleague is out to get you. It’s crazy-making and can lead us to rash behavior. I appreciate that you want to step back, take a breath, and figure out the best plan of action.
Here are five signs that you need to go to HR or ask for outside help.
- There is continued unreasonable, demeaning behavior that is apparent to everyone around you.
- You are experiencing verbal or other forms of abuse or mistreatment.
- Your direct, in-good-faith efforts to build a more positive relationship have failed.
- Your boss is clearly standing in the way of your advancement, for no good reason.
- The toxicity of the situation is impairing your health, well-being and performance.
Before you go to HR, try these strategies:
- Find a sponsor within the company who has a higher level of power and influence than you do who believes in you wholeheartedly. Get your sponsor’s advice on how best to understand and navigate this experience. Get his or her thoughts on whether this type of situation is specific to you and your boss, or has emerged before.
- Investigate opportunities outside the purview of this individual (in another department or division). Determine if there are possibilities for growth within your company but out from under your boss.
- Document what’s going on – in clear, non-emotional language, with dates and events. Keep a log of everything you’re experiencing. This will help you get clear on where and when the mistreatment occurs, and will be valuable if you do need to explain the situation to HR or a third party.
- Do everything in your power to improve the relationship. Often when we’re on the receiving end of negative behavior, we go directly into fight-or-flight mode. We want to run or we’re ready to engage in battle. It’s best to avoid either extreme and instead, take a long, hard look at whether anything you’re doing is contributing to the negativity between you. I’m not saying you “deserve” mistreatment. I am saying that in most situations, we co-create what’s happening to us, whether we’re aware of it or not.
See also: Is Your 2nd-in-Command After Your Job?
Examine your behaviors and attitudes regarding your boss and attempt to repair the bridge before you burn it. I’ve been in this situation, and I can tell you that when I’ve examined my own behavior, I’ve seen that there was room for improvement in terms of my giving this individual the respect, support and cooperation that they deserved. Butting heads or fierce competition often reveals a power dynamic that needs to be addressed.
Kathy Caprino, founder and president of Ellia Communications and author of Breakdown, Breakthrough, is a regular blogger for Forbes.