What to Do When You Have a Toxic Boss

7 min min read
Updated on April 7, 2021
What to Do When You Have a Toxic Boss

Your boss can easily be a determining factor regarding whether or not you are happy at your job. Your Boss can also be the one who molds, develops your talent you and inspires you to talk steps forward.  Because your boss is the person you have the most interactions with it is important to try and build a solid trusting relationship with them, but what do you do when you are working under a toxic boss?

Unfortunately, it has been found that a toxic boss exists in almost every corporate work environment in America. A survey conducted in 2017 by the Workplace Bullying Institute found that 60% of Americans are aware of bullying that takes place in their workplace with 61% of bullies being the boss. With this staggering statistic it is important that employees have tools in their arsenal to use in case they are in the situation of dealing with a toxic boss.

Types of Toxic Bosses

No matter if you’re stuck with a Sue Sylvester (?) or a Ticking Time Bomb, these tips will help you to make the most of your role in the workplace and keep your eyes set on the greater things that lie ahead for you.

Toxic Bosses

The Lazy Loafer

Your boss spends 90% of the day on their phone appearing to play all kinds of different games. One thing is for certain though, they sure aren’t working. It is best to look at this kind of boss as a career opportunity, because they aren’t actively working it supplies you with an opportunity to ask to take on things that you are interested in and do work that is relevant to what you know you are good at. Chances are this type of boss won’t mind letting you take the lead which supplies you with the opportunity to strengthen your resume for future opportunities.

The Ticking Time Bomb

This type of boss is a scary one because you never know when it’s going to strike, just that the fuse is going to run out at some point. The noticeable characteristics of this boss is that out of nowhere they will be at your desk yelling. The best way to ~diffuse~ this type of boss is to try and learn what sets them off. If they are a freak about the details make sure to get a second or third set of eyes on what you are submitting to try and make sure all of the boxes are checked.

The Sue Sylvester

Have you watched Glee? If not, you don’t know about the William McKinley High School Cheerleading Coach Sue Sylvester who married herself. You know you have a Sue Sylvester boss when they think the rules apply to everyone besides them. This type of boss acts like everyone exists only to confirm how great they are or to make their life more convenient. They typically take all of the credit for group projects and pass the blame onto others. The best way to tackle this boss is to ignore their calls for validation and cultivate relationship with others in the office. Make sure to also keep a paper trail of your accomplishments and projects so you don’t have to rely on your boss for recognition.

This handy infographic is another great tool to work through the details to determine if your boss just had a bad day (or week!) or is leaning a full-fledged toxic boss.

How to Deal with Toxic Bosses

Shift Your Focus

The most important tool to deal with having a toxic boss is focusing on your work. The one thing that you have direct control over is your performance, and the more emotional power you give your toxic boss, the more your boss will focus on you as a target. Strategic thinking will help immensely in these situations as a toxic boss may say that data doesn’t matter, they just want you to follow what they say. Make sure to use logic, do your job and check your ego at the door. Recognize there are varied management styles and their style is not a reflection of you but them. Learning what doesn’t work is as important as knowing what does.

Assume Positive Intent

Don’t take it personally! To survive a workplace with a toxic boss, one tactic is to not take the manager’s comments personally. If you are putting 100% effort into your work, learn to acknowledge that the manager’s toxicity is their problem, not yours. If your goal is to move up, find ways to get ahead by showing other managers in the organization your value, and create a professional network outside of work. Letting rude comments slide off you will only help your emotional state. If you’re truly comfortable with who you are, and you know just how hard you work, what could your boss really say to ruffle your feathers?

Don’t Expect Change

Rather than expecting your boss to change, focus on the positive that you are spreading in the workplace. We can apply insect repellent to keep the mosquitoes away, but the mosquitoes will still be mosquitoes. Your toxic boss was a jerk long before you accepted the job, and will continue to be a jerk long after you’ve moved on. They aren’t going to change nor is it your responsibility to convince them to see the error of their ways. It’s your responsibility to survive. When it comes to business, some people think success means erasing any semblance of humanity and making shady moves to get ahead, while also treating their subordinates like garbage. If your boss is one of them, you can take comfort in knowing that this is only going to get them so far in life. Find ways to show the other executives in your company how valuable you are or join professional groups outside of work to create your own network of people who aren’t the worst.

Set Limits

Analyze how your boss treats with a list of facts. You will say less and get more accomplished when you approach your boss with facts and a strong physical posture. Knowledge is power and facts are the knowledge you need. You must let your boss know you will no longer tolerate the negative facts on your list in terms to how you’re being treated. If your boss argues or starts acting out, leave the conversation and escalate to the person above your boss. Tell your boss that since he/she is unable to communicate rationally that you will be addressing your concerns elsewhere.

Body language is another great way to silently but effectively deal with a boss who is a bully. When you have to be face-to-face with your boss, focus on lifting your chest and your chin. This posture gently but firmly communicates that you’re open to talk and not intimidated. When your toxic boss aggressively comes after you it is natural to cower; this posture will take over immediately when under siege of emotions like shame or humiliation. When you focus on your body language you covertly give yourself the upper hand. Your toxic boss will pick up on you having a stronger vibe and they will naturally respond less aggressively. Body language is a more powerful communicator than words which the bully can turn around and use against you; body language cannot.

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