Dealing With a Toxic Boss

We’ve all had them – and some of us may have been one. Toxic managers. The manager who makes you want to call in sick. The one who causes your blood pressure to raise every time you see an email from him. The one who even makes you miserable at home because all you can do is think about how much you don't want to go to work the next day.

So what can you do if you have a toxic leader? Are you destined to work in misery until he (or you) quit or get fired? Absolutely not! Below are suggestions to help you navigate these treacherous waters.

Address the problem

I have trained and coached thousands of leaders around the globe, and I can honestly say that most toxic leaders truly do not understand the impact of their behavior (or even that they would be considered a toxic leader). Yes, they may know that they have upset people. But do they truly understand why?

If you feel safe giving them feedback, use these proven steps:

  1. Explain the intent of the feedback is to improve your relationship, team performance, etc. or use the catch-all “I know you care about the team/company.”

  2. Describe the specific behavior, such as “Your voice grew loud when you told me about the errors.”  This will cause less defensiveness than the blanket statement, “You acted like a bully.”

  3. Ask how you can help them change the behavior. This is especially effective if they do not realize that they are doing things to offend others.

  4. Follow up with support and positive encouragement if you have seen a behavior change.

Learn their communication style

Miscommunication leads to mistrust - and mistrust leads to bad behavior as we try to protect ourselves from what we perceive is a threat.  Yes, it would be great if your manager took the time to learn your communication preferences, but you may need to take the high road.

Is he truly a bully, or does he prefer using a blunt communication style, not realizing that it offends you? Is she a true micromanager, or does she need details and consistency to feel comfortable?

The answer to these questions might be “yes”, but it is worth looking at.

Examine your role

Most of the time we are not innocent bystanders. Take a good look at what you do or not do to contribute to his behavior. This often goes back to differences in communication style, discussed above.

Working with a toxic manager is hard, but you cannot run away. There will always be these types of managers lurking around the halls. The best thing to do is learn how to deal with them – and not become one yourself.

Anna Conrad, JDis founder of Impact Leadership Solutions, a Denver based leadership consulting firm. Anna has coached and trained thousands of leaders around the globe. Anna has been a sought after expert on over 300 radio shows throughout the United States, and she has been featured in many major publications, including Fast Company, Inc., Chicago Tribune, and Business Journals in 43 major US cities. She is the author of the best selling book (R)evolution: One Man’s Leadership Journey.