This is how you can deal with the authoritarian language of managers at work

Anna doesn’t know how to react. She is in her mid-thirties and has about fifteen years of work experience, when during a Zoom conversation she receives the following opening question from a manager whom she is speaking to for the first time as a team leader for a new project: “Tell. What do you know about me and my team?”

Anna (not her real name) explains what happened next: “I looked at him speechless. And he immediately said, “Nothing.” It’s not that Anna didn’t know anything, but she didn’t want to come up with a random answer. Then she was extremely reserved during the meeting for an hour. Anna had already promised her team’s participation in the project and did not want to go back on it. But it didn’t get any better to say the least. “He criticized everything we did and was always intrusive. He actually didn’t use my team at all and could have done everything himself.”

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Forms of authoritarian behavior

Authoritarian language in this case led to two problems:

  • Mutual respect could no longer be built up in the project team. The manager had instilled in herself that Anna was incompetent and Anna got the impression that he did not have the desired social skills. The first meeting of the project was no longer purposeful.

In this way, the manager created a situation from the start of the project that meant that all involved could do their job less well.

So-called “test questions” where you randomly test another person are a common form of authoritarian language. They refer to a pattern from the school days: the teacher asks a question to a child and if the answer is not correct, the child has failed. This approach emphasizes an unequal relationship of authority.

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Other examples of authoritarian or intimidating language are the frequent use of internal company jargon, such as specific abbreviations or certain specialist technical words. This may be intended to make those who do not know certain concepts feel that they are less competent or do not belong.

Authoritarian language is often a sign of insecurity, because the speaker needs it to confirm his own role and thinks he has the right to put himself above another. Good managers usually know that trying to make others insecure is counterproductive.

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What do you do about an authoritarian tone?

Keeping calm is often the best response to being treated authoritarian. If you stay calm, you buy time. As an employee, you then have to ask yourself whether you must necessarily work with someone who is behaving authoritatively.The choice is more difficult for permanent employees and trainees. However, there are a number of ways to minimize the burden of authoritarian managers:

1. Keep your distance: There’s no point in running into the same wall over and over. A few days of vacation can help, but otherwise just try to avoid the person as much as possible and keep contact to a minimum.

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2. Prioritize: Are you satisfied with your current job and position? Then it may pay to stay a while longer. If not, it’s time for…

3. Looking for alternatives: Another department? Another team? Or a completely different company? If you don’t just look for solutions within yourself, but more broadly within the company or elsewhere in the labor market, you create more options for solving the problem.

Of course, it can also pay off to invest in the relationship with an authoritarian manager. If you can build a workable relationship, you may be able to count on good support and be less bothered by the authoritarian behavior. This article appeared in expanded form on Business Insider Deutschland.

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Author: Jobly