We all make mistakes, especially when we are new to a position and don't know all of the written, and unwritten, rules. Some bosses don't care what you do correctly, however, and focus on the small mistakes you make (or at least in their mind they are mistakes) making them into major issues. You can do nothing right according to this boss and this can affect your self-esteem and enthusiasm for a position, even one which you love in theory.
There is a difference between a difficult boss and harassment. Harassment is a type of civil rights violation under federal law. It is offensive conduct based on things such as gender, race, age, pregnancy, among other areas. Petty slights or annoyances will not raise the actions to the level of being illegal under federal law. The actions must make the working environment rise to the level of being intimidating, hostile or offensive to a reasonable person. Some things, but not all, that might be considered "offensive conduct" are:
* Ridicule or mockery
* Insults or put-downs
* Assaults or threats
* Name calling
Obviously these can become difficult to prove, especially if co-workers are your witnesses and do not want to get involved for fear of their own jobs. Additionally, most bosses are savvy enough not to put blatant slurs and obviously offensive remarks in emails or in writing to be used as proof. What if your overbearing boss may also not quite fall into this category?
1. The "why" is usually not personally about you: If this is a one-time issue, there may be a lot going on that your boss is trying to juggle and she is just stressed and over-whelmed. This likely is not really about YOU but about the boss' situation. One way to deal with this is to understand, do your job the best you can, and ride it out (without being a punching bag). Another is to sympathize with your boss. "You have a lot going on. That has got to be stressful!" Maybe ask if there is anything you can do to help lighten the load. It is possible that your boss is afraid of losing her job...to you. Understand that may be the problem and that you could be anyone that might enter into your boss' insecurities about her own abilities.
2. Failure to Communicate: Sometimes it helps to sit down with your boss and find out exactly what he wants from you. His ability to communicate his wants and needs, especially under pressure, may not always be well explained. He might not have the ability to explain, or even know really, what he wants. Some bosses think you can "read their mind." What you might have is merely a "failure to communicate." One of my favorite movie quotes says exactly this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj60OAh7O5U
3. Point out your accomplishments: You negotiated that contract but the boss is focused on nit-picky things you did wrong. Bottom-line is you got the contract and got it accomplished as it was expected, wanted and needed. One way to get the recognition from your negative boss is to send regular updates on what you have done right. Begin these notices of your positive actions before you get that negative notice you know is coming from your boss - because there is that boss that will always focus on the wrong.
4. Find happiness somewhere else: Sometimes a bully boss is just that - an insecure bully. My happiest jobs were after leaving a horrible one. Maybe the sharp contrast made the new job seem even better but getting out of a depressing, energy-sapping, negative-energy environment, but whatever the reason, I was always happy I was gone. In hind-sight, if I had done more research and talked to others in the industry, previous employees, etc. I would have known about the horrible environment I was going to place myself in to before I even started. If I had done so, every time I would not have taken the job. I must admit that I did pass on some jobs due to "reputations" of potential bosses and companies but not all. Look to see what the turn-over rate is like. See what others in the industry have to say about the boss or program.
If you have a full-time job, you are spending the vast majority of your waking hours in that environment. If you have a negative energy all day long, it is logical that you will feel stressed and unhappy even outside of that work place. Taking steps to better your understanding and relationship with your boss may work, but in other situations, you may need to find yourself finding a different position. Sometimes a neutral, third-party, such as a mediator, may be able to help in understanding what is truly happening, help with communication barriers, and help solve some issues.