How to Deal with a Toxic Boss

How to Deal with a Toxic Boss

As a sequel to my previous article, “The Characteristics of Toxic Leadership”, here are my thoughts on how to deal with a toxic boss. Your relationships at work are an important part of your happiness and success in life. A lot of your time is spent at work, in direct contact with your colleagues and managers.

There is no way of avoiding interaction especially while part of a team and this makes good relationships at work integral to your well-being and the work you do. We all have our fair share of annoying colleagues—from those who send too many emails to those who don’t replace the toilet roll. Co-workers who are at your level can easily be dealt with. It is difficult bosses that become the problem.

Most people will tell you, just quit but that should be your last resort. Why should you abandon your chosen career, over another person’s behaviour? If you truly love the work do and are satisfied with what you get to do, it is better to find effective ways to deal with your boss. They are human, after all and there are ways and means to learn to deal with difficult people. Here are some ways to deal with a toxic boss.

Develop a Thick Skin

People pass this platitude around like candy but it is very useful advice. You will do well to let insults and negativity slide off you. We all know when we’ve screwed up and when we haven’t. When you have made a mistake, accept that there is a price to pay. Of course, this does not justify erratic and abusive behaviour but depending on the situation, learn the lesson that has to be learnt and move on. If there is no need for criticism and you have done nothing wrong, let it roll off you, like water off a duck’s back. You know you don’t deserve so don’t let it get to you which is of course, easier said than done, but it can be done.

Take the High Road

There is usually a reason for a person’s behaviour. Maybe they have troubled home lives or a troubled past. Most bullies have a lot of insecurities and are looking for validation. Understanding why someone treats you the way they do, makes it easier to deal with. It doesn’t excuse their behaviour but it will help you deal with them with more maturity and compassion. As Michelle Obama famously put it, “When they go low, we go high”. Being the bigger person makes you grow, not just professionally but in your personal life as well.

Lower your Expectations

We all unconsciously expect perfection from people in higher positions for obvious reasons. We assume that experience and their position makes them perfect. But people are human and they make mistakes. Understanding that people aren’t perfect makes it easier to deal with their bad behaviour or outbursts. Again, this is not a justification but a better understanding of people and their quirks will help you in your professional relationships.

Write a Letter (but Don’t Send it)

Let out everything you feel about your boss but don’t send it to anyone. Write it on a piece of paper and then tear it up. Articulating how you feel makes it easier for you to deal with your emotions towards a person to whom you cannot express yourself. Even though you won’t get the satisfaction of being able to say exactly what you think, the negativity is out of your system and you will feel so much better.

Success is So Much More

You don’t need that one particular boss to make it in life. In most corporate structures, there are a variety of teams and a proper hierarchy. Try to switch teams/managers so that you don’t have to deal with that person on a day-to-day basis. Work hard to show other people in high positions how much you do rather than trying to please an impossible boss. Network well within the company so you get a good name and when a spot opens, who knows, it may have your name on it.

What Goes Around, Comes Around

We all know that famous Justin Timberlake song and we all also know how true it is. Karma is real and it does get people in the end. Simply put, if you send out negativity, you’re likely to get negativity in return. Instead of plotting against your boss, focus on yourself. He/she will get what’s coming to them.  Focus on doing your work, the best you can and let them behave they way they choose to. Don’t let it take away from the person you are.

Know Your Own Worth

Always remember your own strengths and work hard at your weaknesses. If you work hard, all of the other things fall away. Crazy bosses become the background of your more important schedule. Focus on your own work and let the rest play out. One day, you will move on to bigger and better things through your own hard work and that person who once tormented you will have no effect on you. But always remember your own worth, no matter what anyone says.

Make Your Boss Look Good

This may feel like selling your soul but unfortunately that is how the world works. You have to pick your battles. The trick is to make yourself invaluable and very hard to replace. No intelligent manager will cut the person holding them up. But also remember, that it may become a problem if everyone knows it’s you and not them. Be sure to keep your role in holding them up quiet, because an insecure toxic boss is sure to have an issue with you getting more credit than them and will then make your life harder. Unfortunately, this is how corporate structures are; successful managers are often those that take all the credit while distributing blame.

Toxic bosses are way more common than people realize. Often, people think that it is unique to them and their work life. That is unfortunately, completely untrue. These sort of managers/bosses are quite common and dealing with them is quite the task. While it is fair to say that no one is worth leaving the job/career path you love, you should also know when to walk away. Be on the lookout for better opportunities so that you have a backup plan in case it gets too hard for you to continue but remember, as the proverb goes, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don't.” There could be worse managers out there. But even so, never count leaving as a failure. It’s a failure on the part of a manager if he/she mistreats someone so badly that they find themselves with no choice but to leave. It takes strength to walk away as much as it does to stay.

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  • Gary Black

    Dealing with difficult people can significantly impact one’s emotional, psychological and overall well-being

  • Jack Lindorfer

    If you want to change the dynamic you have with a difficult boss, you may need to change how you respond to him or her.

  • Alex Robinson

    If things are heating up, politely ask to revisit the conversation at a later time. You should know when to walk away.

  • Dave McFarlane

    Make sure you have witnesses and document bad behaviour to report your toxic boss

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Rajh V Iyer

Investment Expert

Rajh is a serial entrepreneur with ventures in knowledge process outsourcing, hospitality, retail, IT and e-commerce. He has over 25 years of corporate experience and expertise in key roles of leadership, strategy, planning & management. Rajh is especially skilled at developing new profit centers within scheduled timelines and costs while ensuring operational efficiencies through long-term strategic planning. His core expertise includes delivering customized and cost-effective solutions to meet the operational and financial goals of the organization and its stakeholders. Rajh holds an MBA in Marketing from the University of Mumbai. 

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