Got a bully boss? 3 tips to help you.

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What is a bully boss? Bully bosses are people who are very goal-oriented, get the job done, but leave a lot of human wreckage in their wake. We’ve all worked for them at one time or another. Or have had clients who fit the description.When you work for a bully boss, you notice that you have no personal life. Though it’s not written anywhere, the bully boss’s expectation is that you be on call 24/7. You personal boundaries erode to the point of becoming nonexistent and you live in a lot of fear, waiting for the other shoe to drop. If there is a conflict and you stand up to the bully boss, you usually find yourself trapped in a paradox. The bottom line is, you are destined to be wrong because he has to be right. The bully boss rarely listens to anyone with a different opinion and will gather support for his own opinion from those who are too afraid to do anything else but agree.

With the Presidential race ramping up, we have plenty of opportunity to witness this kind of behavior. Some have suggested that Donald Trump is a bully boss. Whether he is or not, we’re not going to weigh in on because we’re coaches, not political commentators. Besides, you can’t do anything about the behavior of Presidential candidates. But you do have some choices when it comes to your bully boss.

What most people do is complain about their bully boss and feel like a hopeless victim. And you’re probably waiting for us to tell you what to do about him or her. But we’re not going to do that, because you can’t change a bully boss. That’s part of their profile; they’re unchangeable and not usually capable of psychological insight. So we’re going to shift gears here and tell you what you can do. You can do something about you.

TIP #1: Back Pocket Coach strategy #25 asks: “What if I don’t have all the facts?”

In the context in which this strategy was written, it refers to the importance of having all the facts about others and the situation at hand. For bully boss, we are suggesting a twist on the strategy, which is: “What if I don’t have all the facts about myself?” Such as, “why am I still in this job?” Well, maybe you’re working on a project that you’re passionate about. Or maybe you like the money. Or perhaps you’re the sole source of income for your family. Whatever the reasons, they are your reasons. And it’s important to get clear on these reasons. You are there by choice. You are a free agent and can come and go at will. Once you embrace this, you will discover that this is where your power lies.

As human beings, we need to know that we have choices -- no matter what our age or stage in life. And by making a conscious choice about staying in your job and working for a bully boss, or polishing up your resume to start exploring your options, you are operating from a place of personal power. When you make choices within this context, you won’t risk poisoning your nervous system with resentment. Because resentment comes from feeling like a victim who has no power. This anonymous quote says it beautifully: “Resentment is like you taking a poison pill and hoping the other person dies.”

TIP #2. Back Pocket Coach Strategy #33 says: “Shake it off!”

The three components to this are: 1) don’t take things personally; 2) stay focused on the outcome; 3) remain flexible. All three are good advice when engaging with a bully boss. But not taking things personally is perhaps the most important. And if you’re dealing with a real bully boss, this is way more about him, than you.

TIP #3. Be impeccable with your work.

Don’t give your bully boss a reason to find fault with your work product. This ties into not taking things personally, because when you are impeccable in your words and in your deeds, there will be nothing for you to take personally.

Please share your thoughts about your experience with a bully boss and what you did to stay afloat and fulfill your goals and purpose. We’d love to hear from you!

Difficult conversations just got easier

Some of the more frequent areas we are asked to work on with individuals and teams include enhancing communication skills, conflict management, and difficult conversations. These are not lightweight conversations and while some may enjoy the challenge ‘conflict’ brings, others are skeptical or even averse to engaging in the difficult or potential conflict evoking conversation.

So what is it that makes difficult conversation hard and why do we say it just got easier?

Difficult conversations require courage, emotional intelligence, and savvy communication and leadership skills – no matter what title or role you hold in an organization, including with your family and friends. It also requires you to have some sense of personal power, in other words – work on yourself and your personal development rather than worry about fixing or correcting the others in the conversation. Sounds simple, but it is challenging. We know this from our work and from our own personal development. It’s why there are so many resources to support us in developing communication skills, dealing with conflict and having those challenging conversations. We each have our favorite authors and influencers in this area, and we’ve appreciated what we’ve learned and applied as part of our own development, personally and professionally. Notice our inclusion of ‘applied’ in the previous sentence – the application of what we learn is really important to integrating learning into practice. This principle is what spurred us to create Back Pocket Coach as a tool to use for applied learning, practice, and ultimately habit to approach those potentially challenging or difficult conversations with ease.

Click here to get Back Pocket Coach on Amazon Kindle!


We saw successful clients challenged by bully bosses and boards as they devolved into emotional turmoil rather than address from a place of strength. We know it’s hard to be strong when people are yelling, and unfortunately bad behavior still happens far too often in all types of places in organizations.

So how can you combat bad behavior and stay strong?

Try strategy #26 in back pocket coach: Assume positive intent. No matter what the other person is saying or doing remember they are human and they are probably doing the best they know how to at any given moment in time – even if it seems like they should know better. So Assume positive intent – Working with others can be challenging. Our emotions may cause us to question their intent or motivation, especially when they seem to be in opposition to ours. Next time, try this: Before assuming you “know” what the other person’s intention is, ask! Then methodically reflect back what you hear them say. This simple act of clarifying will calm your nervous system and allow you to set the tone for a positive dialogue.

Remember, you have the power to make the difference!

Back Pocket Coach Strategy #7: May I give you some feedback?

Delivering feedback is not an easy process, and it is even more challenging when the message is potentially negative.  Just the thought of this type of conversation commonly evokes emotional turmoil for both the giver and receiver. Frustrations with an employee, boss, colleague, or other that are not addressed can lead to apathy and an “it’s never going to change” mindset that demoralizes you and others. And, if the situation has existed for awhile, you may need more than one conversation to resolve it.

Also consider that the individual may have no clue there is a concern, because no one has really given him feedback. You or someone else might have hinted, but how clear was the message, and how self-aware is he?

In their book Thanks for the Feedback (2014), Stone and Heen encourage “creating pull” for receiving feedback as opposed to pushing through the resistance. The authors reinforce the value of creating pull for one’s own reflection and personal development.

Pulling or drawing someone into a conversation makes it easier to engage. It is also a smoother transition into a feedback conversation with them.

May I give you Feedback

So how can you deliver feedback with more ease and engage the individual in the conversation?

  1. Check your emotional readiness. What do you need to be at your best and ready?

  2. Create a safe environment for the conversation. Avoid open areas where others might overhear the exchange.

  3. Begin with the question, “May I give you some feedback?” Asking permission invites the individual into dialogue and offers him a choice to participate. It is a respectful way to gain agreement to proceed with the conversation, and it helps the person be more open to hearing what you have to say.

Remember, asking a question like “May I give you some feedback?” is an invitation into a conversation. When we give people a choice to engage, they will be more likely to participate and actually hear what we have to say.

8 Tips For Successful Collaboration at Work

Most of us have been part of a project when communication has fallen apart and our collective behavior has devolved into shouting and finger-pointing over the sorry state of affairs. Was it avoidable? In the vast majority of cases, yes.

Here are 8 tips for successful collaboration at work to support you in ensuring a successful collaboration and outcome.

8 tips for successful collaboration at work

1. Provide the vision and set the context: If you are leading the project, this is your job. ‘Paint a picture’ of your project vision for your co-collaborators. Then provide them with context. This means let them know the what and the why of your approach.

2. Persist until you have clarity: If you are a member of the team, it’s crucial to get a clear understanding of the project to avoid filling in the gaps with assumptions. For example, after your boss lays out the plan and the explanation still leaves you scratching your head, dialogue with her until you get the clarity you need. Don’t assume that you are stupid or that she provided a good explanation that you somehow missed. More time is wasted on the back end by not getting clarity up front.    

3. Establish a real deadline: If you are given a deadline that is ‘sometime before the end of the month,’ this does not constitute a real deadline, and your belief that it does can come back to bite you. A deadline without a date and time is not real and is therefore always open to interpretation. Whether you take on a project or are assigning one to someone else, you are entering into a contract. Agree on a specific date and time.

4. Summarize: At the end of each meeting, summarize what each of you understood to have agreed to and have a dialogue until you are sure you are on the same page. I recommend putting that summary in an email so you all have a written record of your agreements.  

5. Create operating agreements: Do this before leaving your initial project meeting. Operating agreements provide you with a playbook of understanding regarding how each of you operates and what you can expect from one another during the course of your collaboration. Imagine trying to play a board game if you don’t know the objective or the rules. Not having operating agreements is like that.

Examples of operating agreements:

  • What is your boss’s preferred form of communication — i.e. email, phone, in-person?  
  • How frequently does your project lead want to receive project status and what does this look like? A weekly written report or a quick verbal status?
  • What action will you take if the project deadline slips. Agree on the what, the who and the how in advance.
  • Make sure you know one another’s boundaries. For example, is it okay for your boss or colleague to fire off a bunch of emails to you on weekends and then expect a prompt response? Get clear on this before it becomes an issue.

Have an operating agreement that says you agree to talk about whatever is not working is a good idea, too. This gives all parties “permission” to address problems as they arise so they can be quickly resolved. By establishing operating agreements in advance, you create clarity and avoid assumptions. Get everyone’s buy-in on the operating agreements and make sure all have a written copy.

6. Establish and maintain clear boundaries: If you have a boss, colleague or client who has a tendency to take advantage of your good nature and step over your boundaries, operating agreements can help. If it happens, gently and firmly remind them of the operating agreements that you agreed to, then kindly request that you both stick to them. If you find that an operating agreement is no longer working, then renegotiate it -- together.

7. Speak about your common goal: This is especially important when things get tense. Remind one other that you all want the same thing -- a successful outcome and happy stakeholders, for example. Explicitly speaking to this during the course of your collaboration will help you all stay in alignment when the going gets tough.

8. Last but certainly not least...appreciate: Appreciation is the number one thing that people say they want most at work and in life. So look for opportunities to offer appreciation: telling your boss how much you appreciate his taking time to clarify project details for you, or thanking your colleague for staying late to crunch those numbers, or appreciating someone’s upbeat attitude. Not only does this encourage more of the same thoughtful behavior, it will serve to create a spirit of collaboration and goodwill. And this supports a successful outcome!


2 Hours of Coaching and $3 Million to a Company's Bottom Line

How a senior executive restored $3 million to his company's bottom line and saved a key customer relationship with just 2 hours of coaching.

The senior executive was furious. He had just been told that his company's award fee had been cut from $3 million to ZERO for a recently completed project. Not only was this a financial blow to his company, it was shaming for him. Even worse, it could potentially put his job in jeopardy.

He was ready to go to his customer with "all guns blazing" to demand that his company's award fee be restored. "Not a good plan,” replied the person he confided in. "Let me refer you to an executive coach who can help you prepare for this negotiation so you’ll have the best possible chance for a successful outcome.”

2 hours of coaching leads to 3 million to a companys bottom line

That same day, I received a call from the executive. He laid out the details of his situation, which included a description of the strained relationship he had with his customer. We went to work using a process that I have used many times over the years to help clients prepare for high stakes conversations. Our coaching conversation concluded with a good strategy and some “homework” for my client. After a quick check in the following day, he was off to the airport to meet with his customer.

Our next conversation took place a day later upon his arrival back home. He enthusiastically reported a successful trip in which his award fee was restored and, just as important, so was his relationship with his customer. Not only did he keep his job but to this day, he remains one of the most respected senior executives in his company.


Appreciation is the secret sauce—now more than ever.

Several months ago when we were preparing to write this blog on appreciation, we went on Twitter and entered #AppreciationPolitics, thinking it would be wonderful to find an uplifting story from the political area that we could write about — something that would give us a reason to wax poetic and get a glow on.

Well, not so much. Twitter reported: “No results.” What?! Of all the hundreds of thousands of topics on Twitter that garner interest and are share-worthy, there was nothing.

Our spontaneous reaction was to burst out laughing. But, unfortunately this is no laughing matter. Why? Because appreciation is a crucial component for happiness and successful relationships. There is much research that points to appreciation being the number one thing that people want most at work and in life.

Appreciation is the secret sauce

It is important to find a way to open our hearts and appreciate others -- especially if those others view things differently than we do. Appreciation is not about being a Pollyanna or turning a blind eye to bad behavior or worse.

Voltaire, 18th Century French philosopher and prominent figure of the French Enlightenment, powerfully articulated the value of appreciation when he said, “Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”

Imagine the kind of world we could create together if we were all guided by this philosophy.

Considering this on an organizational level, we know from experience that both team effectiveness and a leader’s effectiveness closely correlate with a culture of real appreciation. Maybe you’ve had the experience of walking into a room where a team is meeting and were able feel  the appreciation and respect team members have for one another; it’s palpable.

And the reverse is just as true. Working in a team of people who are angry, hostile and totally lacking in appreciation for one another is miserable. It’s a no-brainer to know which team will be the high performing one. And have the happiest, most satisfied team members.

So while we’re probably not going to heal politics and violence in the world, we do have the ability to make a difference right where we are — within our professional and personal lives. A kind word and a gesture of sincere appreciation can go a long way.

Remember this: In appreciating others we acknowledge their value in the situation or relationship. Challenge yourself to notice what you can appreciate about someone, even (and especially) if it’s difficult. Here are a few simple guidelines: 1) be authentic: say what it means to you; 2) be timely: do it now; 3) make it a habit: look for opportunities to appreciate another.

Who will you appreciate today?

For help in creating a culture of appreciation in your organization, contact Alexandra Ross and Diane Brennan at

Updated from original post March 20, 2016, 

Strategy #13: I may need to renegotiate our agreement.

We’ve all had the experience of agreeing to something we were not able to deliver on. It’s a horrible feeling when you disappoint another person, not to mention disappoint yourself.

Breaking your agreement could have happened for a legitimate reason. Or perhaps you miscalculated the time required to complete a task. You may have even believed that saying no was not an option, so said yes when you should have discussed it first.

Regardless the reason, breaking agreements can strain even the best relationships and impugn your credibility. The good news is, there is a simple strategy you can use to effectively manage the agreements you make.

Strategy #13: I may need to renegotiate our agreement.

First, understand that agreements are verbal contracts, so take seriously every agreement you make. Next, only agree to what you know you can deliver. That said, sometimes an unforeseen conflict can make this impossible. If this happens, renegotiate your agreement immediately! This gives the other person a chance to look for different options, and it preserves your standing as a conscientious person of integrity.

Finally, the next time someone makes a request of you, don’t feel compelled to say yes on the spot. Try this: Let the person know that you would like to accommodate their request, and that you first need to review your current commitments to make sure you can confidently agree to their request.

Doing this telegraphs the message that you take your commitments seriously and that you are someone they can count on.

Women in the Workplace: How to Ask For What You Want -- And Get It

One of my clients, a senior executive in a large organization, came to our coaching session, livid. She had been passed over for a promotion that two of her male colleagues, also senior executives, had received. As my client explained it, she was in a more deserving position to have received the promotion due to her extensive contributions — which were qualitatively and quantitatively more substantial than theirs.

Women Don’t Ask?

When she met with her direct superior to find out why her colleagues had received promotions and she hadn’t, he told her, “They asked; you didn’t.”

In telling me the story, my client said, “Women don’t ask.”

This really started me thinking. Could it be true that women don’t ask?

women in the workplace


My client thought her good deeds and brilliance should have been recognized and rewarded without having to ask for it. Maybe so. And maybe, in some organizations, that is exactly what would have happened. Unfortunately, that was not the case here.

The outcome left my client feeling invalidated and victimized. As a coach, my stance would be that it’s okay to go to a place of invalidation for a few moments. This undesirable situation created what I will call a “contrast”, which created a strong desire — in this case, a desire for a promotion. That’s good! Because out of this desire can come the impetus to create a strategy that will move you in the direction of what you want.

Why Playing the Victim Hurts You

The mistake I find more than a few women making is going to that place of invalidation and staying there. Once there, it is easy to start to feel righteously victimized and go into a downward spiral that takes you away from the outcome you want — not toward it.

My client allowed her feelings about the injustice to fester for quite awhile. She made some assumptions about what was ‘true’. She did not have all the real facts available to her, and she was emotional. She then got herself worked up and charged into a conversation with her boss.

Though my client did not get her promotion, she learned a lot from the post mortem regarding what she can do in the future, whether she wants a promotion, a raise or something else.

You Can Get What You Want

The above situation extrapolates to a lot of scenarios in which you either feel used, unappreciated, overworked, underpaid or unfairly treated in some way. There are some common denominators for engaging that will support you in achieving a successful outcome in any of these. Before we look at some general guidelines you can use to get what you want, first identify the basis for your discontent or feelings of injustice:

  • Have you been working too many hours and every time you attempt to get your work-life balance realigned, more work gets piled on your plate?
  • Are you doing the heavy lifting on an important project and not getting the recognition you deserve — or even worse, someone else is?
  • Perhaps the new person is getting the best assignments and they have less experience than you?
  • Do you feel like you deserve more compensation for what you’re doing and somehow your boss seems to be too busy to have that conversation?
  • Are you beginning to think that a raise or a seat at the table with the executive council looks like a pipe dream?

Guidelines for Action

Here are some guidelines to start getting what you want. (And in many cases, there’s a lot to be said for going to the boss and asking for it.)

  • Identify how you are feeling: Ask yourself what you are feeling and what triggered your feelings about the situation in the first place. Put this in writing because when you are upset and thoughts and feelings are swirling around, it is helpful to get a snapshot of your initial trigger points because they will morph and/or you will forget them. Making a written record will help you create an anchor point for later reference. This is for your reference only. Don’t sent this to anyone!
  • Take stock of the facts: One of the best ways to do this is to write down everything you consider to be true about your situation.
  • Do a critical evaluation of ‘the facts’: This means playing devil’s advocate for everything you wrote down. Is it really true or is it your perception or opinion? Going point by point, challenge yourself to determine whether each ‘fact’ is true or whether it is a figment of your perception. Ask yourself how you know. One of the surest ways to know whether it is really true or whether it is your opinion is to ask yourself if the ‘fact’ is arguable. In other words, is it possible for the other person or stakeholder to see the ‘facts’ differently? Make note of what you believe to be fact and opinion. This is an eye-opening experience and can really start to give you some objectivity and clarity.
  • Identify the outcome you want: If you aren’t clear about your desired outcome, how in the world will you ever achieve it?! This outcome should be something that is meaningful to you and has a tangible quality. In other words, if you get this outcome, you will know it. Maybe it’s making a specific request of someone and receiving it. Or perhaps it is simply agreeing on the best strategy forward with a stakeholder.
  • Create a plan of action: If you have gone through the above steps, you are in the most clear-headed, objective place you can be. Ask yourself what your first logical step forward should be. Is there anyone else who needs to be included to achieve your outcome? Once you have done the above work, you may find that reaching your desired outcome might have a few simple steps. If it is more complicated, write down the steps to make sure you capture everything you need to execute it.
  • Be curious: When you are ready to engage in a conversation, take a stance of curiosity rather than arguing for being right. Make sure to provide context for what you are doing, saying and asking. Don’t let stakeholders rely on their own assumptions; this is what gets us all in trouble in the first place.

This is a very rich subject. And because I’m a coach — not a know-it-all — I believe people have their own inherent wisdom. So I’d like to open up a discussion on this topic with everyone.

Is it true that “women don’t ask?” Do you have a story from your workplace that you’d like to share? Or do you think it’s not true? Let me know in the comments section.

What to do when the objective is unclear

Back Pocket Coach Strategy 12: What expectations do you have of me?

“I’ll never do that again!”

In the post-mortem of “what went wrong,” you discover that no one was on the same page from the get-go regarding the objective of the project. It’s a big aha moment for the team, with quizzical looks and much head scratching, implying, “How could that have happened?!”

The funny thing is, it happens more than you might think, and for a variety of reasons. One prevalent reason is that the leader, and perhaps some other team members “assume” that everything is abundantly clear and it never even occurs to them to validate that assumption.

Another big reason is that team members are afraid to ask for clarification because they are concerned that they will sound stupid, out of the loop, or simply unknowledgeable. I have coached many leaders and teams in aerospace over the years and observed that the fear of sounding stupid is alive and well with really smart people.

The fact is, if you are unclear about the objective, chances are pretty good that you’re not the only one. There are many different ways in which an unclear objective shows up in our lives. As such, Back Pocket Coach has more than five strategies that can help guide you out of the weeds and into greater clarity.

what to do when the objective is unclear

Here’s one you could try. Strategy 12: “What expectations do you have of me?” By asking this simple question, you are demonstrating your authentic interest in being part of the solution or success of whatever it is you are involved in.

Whether we realize it or not, we all bring different expectations to the table. Instead of assuming you are both on the same page regarding, for example, who’s going to do what by when, clarify! By asking this simple question, you are implicitly conveying your commitment and interest in being aligned with what needs to be done.

Fortunately, all of these strategies / remedies are quite simple to use. And if you use any one of them, it just may leave your colleagues with a newfound appreciation for your commitment to clarity -- and results.

For more strategies on this and other situations, visit or

3 Guidelines for Valuing Someone's Work or Contribution

Back Pocket Coach Strategy #1: I would like to appreciate you for…

3 Guidelines for Valuing Someone's Work or Contribution

Have you ever found yourself silently appreciating something about a colleague or family member, yet failed to articulate it? Before you beat yourself up for answering in the affirmative, know this: we have all done it; and we will all do it again.

Let’s talk about why it is worth cultivating the habit of appreciating others. For starters, research shows that appreciation is the number one thing people say they want most at work and in life. Being authentically appreciated is valued even more than getting a raise. Think about it: getting a raise is really a token of how much you are appreciated.

Another reason to make appreciation a habit is that it is a powerful relationship builder. Why? Think about the last time someone took the time to really appreciate you. How did it make you feel? How did it influence your relationship with the other person? How did it influence your outlook?

Here are three guidelines for appreciating others:

1) Be authentic: say specifically what their behavior or contribution meant to you. Example: “Tom, thank you so much for staying late last night to crunch those numbers. Your work really saved my presentation this morning. I appreciate your commitment to our team.”  

2) Be timely: do it now;

3) Make it a habit: do it regularly.

Start scanning your environment now for opportunities to authentically appreciate someone’s work or contribution. Then speak your appreciation. And notice the impact you just made on someone’s day. Maybe even their life.