THE workplace can be a veritable minefield - with tyrants and advantage-taking bosses out to undermine your success. If you find yourself in that situation, you will need to deflect the potential damage and protect yourself behind a "bully barrier".

The first weapon you will need is the ability to ignore desperate behaviours. Granted, this may sound like a cop-out, but "if you ignore by choice, it's not cowardice; it's being assertive," says Ms Hilda Meltzer, a New York career coach and assertiveness training specialist.

Besides, when tyrants rant and rave and you respond by cowering or losing your cool, this plays right into their hands, assuring them that they are powerful and in control.

"When these bosses know they can get to you, they will," says Robert Bramson, author of Coping With Difficult Bosses.

"But the flip side is also true. When they know they can't get to you, they won't bother," he adds.

Calm in the storm

Try defusing the anger by asking questions. Keep in mind that if a tyrant has lost control, it usually means he is feeling insecure.

You can help him chill, focus and get back to the business at hand by asking questions: "What's the problem here?" "What needs to be done right now?" "How can I help?"

This subtly reassures the tyrant that he is the boss. It also reminds him that you are on his side, and that you are both working toward mutual goals.

Separate the message from the medium. Suppose the tyrant has humiliated you in front of your colleagues or said some nasty things to you in private. His behaviour may be inexcusable, but is his message justified?

In other words, behind the tantrums or sarcasm, does he have good reason to complain about you or your work? Be honest with yourself.

Stand up to abuse

There will be situations where you can't bite your tongue - and you should not have to. But how to respond to a tyrant's vicious personal attacks?

Calmly tell your boss: "I am a professional. I will not tolerate you talking to me like this. I expect you to treat me like a professional - with courtesy and without putting me down or yelling."

Says Jeffrey Caponigro, author of The Crisis Counselor: "When you do this, bullies often back down because they recognise that you won't be a victim who will let them get away with their antics."

Document everything. Save vicious memos, print nasty e-mails, and write down every insult your bully boss hurls your way - just in case you need to share all these with human resources should a tyrant try to oust you from your job.

If this strategy does not work, realise that you are probably not going to change him. You can, however, change how you react to him by simply detaching yourself - and even feeling a little sorry for him. And that can make an impossible boss more tolerable.