Effective Communication

Top Tips to Handle a Performance Review with a Hostile Boss | Promotion and Performance Series

performance review with a hostile boss | abusive boss

In the workplace, an employee’s boss arguably has the greatest impact on that employee’s job satisfaction, and tenure, with the organization. Unfortunately, some employees find themselves working for bosses who are not just bad, but hostile. That can certainly be tough on a day-to-day basis, but when the rubber really meets the road with these relationships is during the annual performance review. How can employees effectively handle a performance review with a hostile boss?

What Hostile Bosses Look Like

What constitutes a hostile boss? Well, in pop culture terms, a hostile boss is a bully boss. As Douglas LaBier, Ph.D., writes in Psychology Today, hostile or abusive bosses “are often people who are narcissistic, denigrating, arrogant and unsupportive—or outright undermining—of employee’s learning and development.”

Doesn’t sound like the type of person that most people would want to work with, or for. Unfortunately, some people do. If you’re one of them, you’ll want to know how to handle a performance review with a hostile boss.


Also read: 3 Ways to Handle a Performance Review with an Incompetent Boss | Promotion and Performance Series


Best Practices for Addressing Hostile Behavior

A study by Charlice Hurst, Ken Kelley and Timothy Judge with the Department of Management at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business and Lauren Simon of Portland State University examinee bullying behavior by bosses, and looked at the effects on supervisor/employee relationships over time.

What they found is somewhat counter-intuitive. If you’re like most employees faced with an abusive boss, chances are you’ve spent a lot of time attempting to be understanding, to placate them, to be positive, or compassionate. It’s time you’ve been wasting, according to the research. In fact, as LaBier writes, based on another study, “employees who find ways to disengage, emotionally, from abusive bosses, experience a greater sense of managing their dilemma and its emotional impact.” In other words—give hostile bosses their space! Labier suggests:

  • Creating an emotional buffer zone. Pay attention to your internal emotional responses and recognize that you don’t have to act on them.
  • Expanding your perspective. Take a look at the situation in a broader context, recognizing that your bully boss’s behavior may reflect insecurity about his or her own position in the workplace.
  • Acting with “engaged indifference.” This relates to your own feelings. Recognize them, but disengage. Don’t let them define you or lead to counter-attacks. Take the high road.

These are helpful tips for day-to-day interactions with a bully boss. But, what about that predictable point in time that even employees with great bosses tend to dread: the annual performance review? Here’s a look at how to handle a performance review with a hostile boss. 

Performance Review With a Hostile Boss

This doesn’t just apply to hostile bosses, but it’s likely more important when finding yourself in such a situation: don’t wait until it’s time for your annual performance review to work on managing the relationship. It’s the steps you take throughout the year that will serve you well when annual review time rolls around.

Stan Kimer is president of Total Engagement Consulting by Kimer, a company he formed in 2010 after a 31-year career with IBM. While there, he says, he did find himself having to deal with a few hostile bosses. For others who find themselves in this situation, he says, it’s very important to conduct an assessment. How long will that boss be around? Can you outlast him or her? How easy is it for you to move within the company? Is the situation bad enough that you’re considering looking for a job outside the company?


Also read: How to Navigate Promotion and Competition in the Workplace | Promotion and Performance Series


While pondering your options, he says, “do your best work and try to make the hostile boss look good—praise the boss and agree with them in public meetings.” At the same time, he suggests, network extensively within the company and build a solid reputation. “I found that the few times when I had a hostile boss at IBM, I spread the word that I was looking and had multiple managers offering me positions because of my reputation.”

The more you can prove your worth and value to others in the organization, the less bite your hostile boss’s bark will have!

Preparing for Your Performance Review

In preparation for your annual review, be sure to document your performance as objectively as possible. Take a look back at your goals for the year (which you should have been reviewing and reporting on throughout the year) to see how you’ve done. Gather evidence to show the impacts that you’ve made.

In addition to this type of preparation, you’ll also want to prepare for the hostility. After all, it’s a given. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how you look at it), you’ve had plenty of practice dealing with your hostile boss. Your performance review will simply be more of the same: commit to remain calm, focus on the facts, and agree to disagree when necessary.

You don’t have to agree with what your boss says, you just need to acknowledge his or her opinion or perspective. A simple comment like: “I understand what you’re saying,” or “I appreciate what you’re saying” can provide the necessary validation for your boss’s opinions.


Looking for more Guidance on Performance Reviews?
Check out our Collection of Effective Communication Articles


About the Author

Linda Pophal is a freelance business journalist and content marketer with a wide range of writing credits for various business and trade publications. In addition to freelance writing for trade journals and publications, Grensing-Pophal does content marketing for Fortune 500 companies, small businesses and individuals on a wide range of subjects, from human resource management and employee relations, to marketing, technology, healthcare industry trends and more.