Q.I work in a medium-size business in a small town. I need some advice on what to do about my boss.

From the minute he walks in the front door until he leaves work, he is (or seems to be) angry. He belittles us in front of customers. He never tells us if we have done anything to please him.

I've often wondered why my boss doesn't just fire all of us and get rid of all the problems he has with us, but as far as I know he has never fired anyone.

Not only that, but no rules are ever enforced at our workplace. He harps on rules, for sure, but there are no penalties or consequences if the rule are broken by anyone. You can imagine how this makes the few rule-followers feel.

Maybe I would be better off quitting, but I do get some job satisfaction because I am good at my job. Yet, some days I don't think I can stand another minute in such a hostile, frustrating environment.

His manager is the complete opposite. He is easy to be around, pleasant, laid back and praises us when praise is due.

Before I blow a fuse and tell my boss off, is there anything else I can try? I am very afraid of the guy.

A. Your boss sounds like one of those creatures who possess very little backbone and hide that by being extraordinarily unpleasant -- even mean.

And there is a world of difference between being tough and mean.

Don't let him bully you. The next time he does something obnoxious, look him in the eye and calmly ask him to stop or to approach you differently.

For instance, if he ever dresses you down in front of a customer, respond by telling him right then and there: "Please don't criticize me in front of customers. It embarrasses them."

I realize that the prospect of doing this must frighten you. Overcome your fear -- strengthen yourself with the knowledge that people who substitute meanness for toughness are usually the world's worst cowards.

More than likely, your boss will back away from any sign of strength.

Q. I am an educator who was forced to leave the field because of diminished opportunities. I have been working for a private company for some years now.

I enjoy my work and have been given several commendations for excellence on the job.

For most of my working life, I have found that the best code of conduct is to keep one's personal life private.

Recently, I was denied a promotion to a supervisory position that I thought was a sure thing. Upon discussing the situation with my manager, I was informed that I am perceived as unfriendly because I don't open up very much at work.

While I agree with the need for me to get along with everyone -- which is no small feat -- I object to having to become part of the office clique.

Is that really necessary? My boss claims that it would open doors for future networking.

A. Your situation has two sides. You describe yourself as one who guards privacy but gets along with people at work. Your boss feels that you are seen as unfriendly.

If your supervisor is right, that would certainly interfere with your ability to "get things done through the action of others" -- which is one frequent definition of a manager.

Your boss may have a valid concern. Don't take it too lightly.

Andrew Grove is chief executive of Intel Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif., and an author and lecturer on management. Please send questions to him in care of the San Jose Mercury News, Business News Department, 750 Ridder Park Dr., San Jose, Calif. 95190.