action item – Unspeakable Bosses

Columbia University psychology professor Harvey Hornstein has written a book, “Brutal Bosses and Their Prey,” that’s based on 200 interviews with people who tried to take on their bosses.Before you open your mouth, advises Hornstein, think about the following hard-won lessons.

Brutal bosses don’t just survive — they thrive.

That’s because they deliver exactly what their bosses want. Check to see whether the abusers in your company are protected — and whether those who talk back to them end up getting hammered.

Don’t suffer in silence.

If you’ve spoken up and you’re getting picked on for it, talk about it with a trusted coworker. “Don’t pretend that you’re thick-skinned,” says Hornstein. “Doing so will almost invariably cause you to suffer more, not less.”

Don’t talk like a victim.

When dealing with a difficult boss, never apologize and never confess. “These bosses smell blood,” says Hornstein. “Being humble invites assaults — it doesn’t blunt them.”

Coordinates: $12 “Brutal Bosses and Their Prey,” Penguin Putnam Inc.,, 800-788-6262

Sara Terry (, is a Boston-based freelance writer.