Mean Boss? 4 Ways To Handle Her “Downward Envy” of You

If you have ever endured hostility from a boss after you achieved something you assumed would make her proud, then you have been on the receiving end of “downward envy.”Or maybe your boss makes assumptions about you, where you come from, your achievements and your career path, and it makes her envious.Whatever reason, envy is not a productive emotional state for the workplace.New research in the Academy of Management Journal from scholars at the University of British Columbia, University of Minnesota and Ohio State University show that such green eyed bosses have two paths of behaviors when they encounter “subordinates who have something the supervisor desires, but lacks.”  And you can definitely control which way your jealous boss behaves.[bctt tweet=“If you have ever endured hostility from a boss after you achieved something you assumed would make her proud, then you have been on the receiving end of #downwardenvy.” username=“takeleadwomen”]Defining “downward envy as the painful feeling of inferiority” as a “self-threatening yet adaptive emotion,” the study shows that a boss will respond with either “abusive supervision, which is intended to reduce the gap by ‘leveling-down’  or the better alternative of “self-improvement, which is designed to ‘level-up’ against envied subordinates.In other words, if your boss sees you as achieving too high, she can either go low to bring you down, or go high to bring herself up. The great news is you can steer which way your envious boss may go. Here are four tips to deal with an envious supervisor.Warmth and competence. Responding to your boss with “warmth and competence,” the study shows, is your best remedy for a jealous boss. If you act towards your boss in a way that would not provoke a feeling of further threat, then the likely reaction will be to try to come up to your level of success. Even if you are not feeling the love, treat your boss as a “friend,” or in a friendly manner so that she does not act out of envy against you.“Take the mean boss example, and imagine it’s happening to three of your other colleagues. One shouts back and is now on the outs with the boss. One shrinks and says nothing, and will be the target of this bully boss from now on. The third calmly says, ‘Excuse me; there’s no need to yell. I think we can find a good resolution to the problem.’ Assertive. Smooth. Not taking crap, but not slinging any either. Which of the three would you rather be?” Suzan Colon writes in Grok Nation.Encourage a culture of success. Discuss the possibility of self-improvement, learning new skills, collaboration and inclusive acknowledgment of progress within the organization. These tools are meant to “level up enviers relative to envied targets. As an example, enviers may work harder in order to experience successes that match those of the individuals whom they envy,” the study shows. “Individuals in leadership positions often have access to multiple sources of professional development such as advanced training programs, overseas engagements, and opportunities to solicit advice and counsel from connections within and outside the organization.”Don’t get mad, get empathetic.  Whatever is driving your boss to fuel her envy of you, try to be empathetic and see where she is coming from. Perhaps you have a degree she envies, or a home life she perceives as ideal. Rational or not, speaking honestly in a way that makes you come off as more friendly and less threatening can help. “This  means understanding, as best you can, what pressures, what motivators, what hopes and fears drive their behavior. Management comes with it a multitude of pressures from many sources: boards, senior managers, employees, customers, investors and sales reps to name a few,” writes Victor Lipman in Forbes. “The more you understand the pressures your (difficult) boss is under, the better equipped you’ll be to cope. No guarantee this will change your own experience, but empathy is a powerful emotion.”[bctt tweet=“If your boss is showing signs of envy, try to be empathetic and see where she is coming from. #downwardenvy” username=“takeleadwomen”]Realize that envy is the culprit. Definitely continue to be your marvelous, innovative self, but realize that seeing you as a threat is driving the envy, so don’t provoke the jealousy by boasting about your accomplishments or making sure everyone is aware of your pristine career and every ounce of your brilliance. “If they see that everyone is aware of your value, they will be concerned that you may sooner or later leave them, take credit for their achievements, or even take their job,” writes Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Chief Talent Scientist at ManpowerGroup, a professor of business psychology at University College London and at Columbia University, and an associate at Harvard’s Entrepreneurial Finance Lab. “At the early stages of your career, your success is mainly a function of managing the dark side of your boss; at the later stages your success will mostly depend on managing your own dark side, especially if you are interested in being an effective leader.” Chamorro-Premuzic writes in Harvard Business Review.Take care of yourself in the face of envy and abuse. An envious boss may lash out by swearing, yelling or belittling you in meetings, by email, phone or in private. Do your best not to internalize the abusive behavior, but to try to understand your need to set an emotional boundary and see it as your boss’ anger and envy response and that it is not your fault. For sure do not try to minimize your accomplishments or whatever it is that triggers the envy response.“It can be very hard to be frequently criticized no matter how hard you work, treated like garbage because your boss is in a bad mood, or flipped on at the drop of a hat. For this reason, it is very important to be extra kind to yourself and do the things that will help you feel better and maintain your self-esteem in this difficult environment. This may include: positive self-talk, taking short breaks to breathe and re-group, coming in early or staying late after your boss leaves so that you can work more when it is more peaceful, planning fun things for yourself before or after work, finding time for exercise (even if it is a brisk walk around the block at lunch),” writes Karen Arluck, a clinical psychotherapist,  in Forbes.And if you are on the receiving end of the envy, remind yourself that it is your success and your attributes that are inciting someone to want to be like you. As difficult as it may be to endure, it is a compliment.[bctt tweet=“If you are on the receiving end of envy, remind yourself that it is your #success and your attributes that are inciting someone to want to be like you. As difficult as it may be to endure, it is a compliment. “ username=“takeleadwomen”]“The more encouraging conclusion from our studies comes from the evidence suggesting that supervisory leaders may choose self-improvement over abusive supervision as a strategy for reducing gaps with envied subordinates,” the study shows.In Take The Lead’s 9 Leadership Power Tools, Gloria Feldt, Take The Lead co-founder and president, establishes Power Tool # 2 as, “Define Your Own Terms—First, Before Anyone Else Does.” What that means in context of dealing with a boss who has “downward envy,” is making sure your credentials are understood and that you are not an intentional threat to anyone. You are your excellent self.Feldt writes, “Whoever sets the terms of the debate usually wins. By redefining power not as “Power-Over”, but as “Power-To” we shift from a culture of oppression to a culture of positive intention to make things better for everyone.”[bctt tweet=“Your warmth, authenticity and competence give you the power to change an emotionally-charged work relationship into a positive one. #ChangeTheWorkplace” username=“takeleadwomen”]Realize your warmth, authenticity and competence give you the power to change an emotionally-charged work relationship into a positive one. Your boss would rather be your equal than be the one who envies you.