In a perfect world, your team members all row in the same direction under the leadership of your supervisor. But, sometimes, you’re doing your job, thinking you’re killing it, and suddenly your boss does the unthinkable: throws you under the bus.
Whether you’re being blamed for something you didn’t do, unfairly maligned, or your boss suddenly reverses support for you and your work, it can be unsettling. In the worst circumstances, such actions can also damage your reputation with others.
“It’s not uncommon. We did some research and nearly one-third of those that we surveyed said that a colleague or a supervisor has tried to make them look bad on the job. And nearly half of professionals surveyed by our division, OfficeTeam, said that they’ve worked for unreasonable bosses,” says Diane Domeyer, executive director of The Creative Group, a staffing agency for creatives. Realizing that you’re not alone in this type of distressing situation can make you feel a little better, she says.
But that doesn’t mean you have to just sit back and take what your bad boss dishes out, either. If you find yourself the target of unfair criticism, blame, or treatment, here’s how to respond.
Stay Calm and Get the Facts
Before you get angry, take a beat and make sure you have correct information, especially if it’s been relayed to you secondhand, says workplace expert Lynn Taylor, author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job. We all have our bad days, or you may be hearing the hyperbole of office gossip, she says. Discuss the situation with trustworthy people who witnessed or heard it, she suggests.
Even if it’s true that your boss betrayed you, try to keep your emotions in check, she says. Getting angry or upset is going to make you look less professional, inadvertently supporting a negative message that’s out there.
Document Your Side
While the details of the situation are still fresh, be sure to document the facts for yourself with as much detail as possible. In fact, Taylor says, it’s a good idea to document just about everything in your job. “I think it’s good to document the good, the bad, and the ugly at any job,” she says.
Documenting the “good”—your accomplishments and improvements you’ve made, for example—helps you keep your resume up-to-date and make your case for promotions and raises. Documenting the “bad” and “ugly” helps you defend against what’s been said unfairly or not, she says. “Let’s say you have a performance evaluation and certain things are said, you want to be prepared and not forget about your answer to that in defense of yourself,” she says. And just look at how useful James Comey’s note-taking proved to be.
Consider the Personality
What you do next depends largely on the personality you’re dealing with, Domeyer says. Try to be empathetic and understand the personality type and why the person did what they did. A “bulldozer” who just wants things done their way typically responds to you standing up for yourself and explaining the rationale for how you performed a task, she says. If you are dealing with a habitual saboteur or someone who is unpredictable, you may need to involve a third party to help you navigate the situation, she says.
Rally an Ally
Whether you choose to confide in and seek the support of a colleague or mentor, it’s important to choose someone who is trustworthy, Domeyer says. Consider the type of help you need—a sounding board or a champion, for example—and reach out accordingly.
You can also use allies to relay an unexpected tool: the third-party compliment, says John Hoover, senior vice president at career transition firm Partners International and author of How to Work for an Idiot. “It’s a triangle. It’s you, it’s the person that you need to deliver a powerful message that does have institutional authority to really impact your career and your opportunities,” he says. The third-party compliment puts you in a good light because you’re not speaking negatively about the person, and, after it’s relayed by the person in the middle, it can help build the relationship with your supervisor.
If you’re being treated unfairly or abusively and can’t manage the situation on your own, it may be time to involve the human resources (HR) department, Domeyer says. The team there represents the company, but it is also meant to solve problems and can give you some direction or coping mechanisms. Typically, reporting situations to HR can help them identify problem managers.
“I would be honest, recognize that it’s said in confidence, but also recognize that if you go to them repeatedly, most likely that will result in some type of facilitated intervention or in some cases maybe an investigation,” she says. The HR team may also be helpful in locating other opportunities within the company if no resolution can be found.