My Boss Pulled Out a Penknife On Me

Question:
The other day my boss, at this 5-person firm, pulled out a penknife and threatened me with it because I had asked for a vacation. Is this a problem or is it normal?

Answer:

It’s both. Petty workplace threats and bullying are pretty common, which passes for “normal” in most everyday situations. And therein lies the problem.

So, what’s a girl to do? I find it’s better to look for real-life success stories of people who’ve handled similar situations in different ways, ways that worked for them.

When this situation happened to me – yes, it really did – the penknife itself was ludicrously small. It was almost a toy, except it was a really Swiss army knife. Being threatened with such a ridiculous object was clownish. What wasn’t clownish was my boss’ overall body language. I felt, in that moment, that he could have assaulted me, ambushed me if you will. And because he was my Boss Man (not his real name), well, it just seemed insulting.

I went back to my desk and thought, “If you let him make you into a doormat now, your only reward will be more of the same.” After a few minutes’ thought, I went back to him, took a deep breath and said:

“Boss Man, I was not comfortable with what you said to me a minute ago. In my opinion, threats and violent talk have no place in a professional office.” The underlying threat was that I would go and tell his wife and his bookkeeper, both strong-minded women who would give him a stinkeye. He was actually terrified of his wife’s disapproval.

And you know what? He apologized! I can’t say he was a perfect angel after that, but a few people do respect you more if you can stand up to them effectively, without losing your cool. Also, using what advantages you do have.

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