Large numbers of American workers describe their bosses as self-oriented, stubborn, overly demanding, impulsive and interruptive. Nearly two-thirds of government employees report being miserable at their jobs because of toxic bosses. Moreover, over two-thirds of U.S. workers likened overly powerful bosses to out-of-control toddlers in a research study.
However, what should employees do with a difficult boss? Is the only option to quit, and if so, what happens if future employers are just as toxic?
Overcoming a toxic boss in a way that saves both your job and reputation involves approaching it from a positive and proactive manner. You can develop strategies for preventing potentially negative interactions with your boss and handling those that do occur in a clear-headed manner.
Of the top performers among a million workers researched, 90 percent demonstrated skills in managing emotions at stressful moments while staying in control. In this calm frame of mind and emotions, these best-of-the-best workers are better able to neutralize the toxicity of their bad bosses. Learn what skills can help make you the level-headed counterpart to your boss’s bad choices.
It may seem fun to have a boss who is exceedingly friendly and interested in socializing outside of work. However, this type of boss can quickly turn on you and make life at work much harder. Even if an inappropriately friendly boss does not have personal issues with you, he or she can still be a detriment to the workplace. Bosses looking to socialize may priority befriending staff members over accomplishing goals.
If your boss enjoys behaving as though he or she is close friends with you and your co-workers, you should take steps to distance yourself and keep the relationship appropriate. The best way to do this is to set solid boundaries. Do not let yourself be intimidated into swaying from your boundaries, either.
Your camaraderie can persist throughout the entire workday, for example, but it ends each day when you step outside the door and does not resume until your step back through it. The trick to making boundaries work for you is to stick with them consistently, even in the face of persistent bosses.
Every boss likes things done slightly differently. Instead of guessing how your boss likes things done only to find him or her disappointed with your results, inquire ahead of time about what you should do to produce the work your boss expects. This lowers the chance that you end up submitting work your boss considers sloppy or incorrectly done.
Most micromanagers want their workers to stay in constant communication. If you take the initiative to provide this consistently, your boss does not have any reason to hover over you. If your boss is the micromanaging type, check in with your progress regularly, ask pertinent questions about your next steps and seek feedback before you move forward. Over time, you will notice trends in your manager’s preferences. At that point, you can provide what he or she wants without constantly asking for clarification.
Share the Credit
If your boss is a tyrant who always wants things done his or her way and takes the credit for things that go right, learn to share credit with him or her whenever you can. Do not get into a battle of egos with your boss. You always lose. Instead, let your ego shrink a little to give his or her bloated one the space it needs.
When you make suggestions, phrase them in a way that makes it seem like they are your boss’s idea or a way that lets him or her frame it that way for others. Praise your accomplishments as a team effort, even if it was not. Managing a tyrant’s emotions for the company’s own good may simply be part of your contribution to the effort.
Pick Your Battles Wisely
Not every battle is worth fighting, and when your opponent is a toxic boss, most are not worth it. Sometimes, winning a battle against your boss means earning a win for the company. In those cases, it may be one worth fighting. However, many times the battle may only be a matter of personal pride.
If you let most potential battles lie and reserve your fight for the times it really matters, your toxic boss may be less suspicious of your complaints. Instead, he or she may be inclined to take notice and pay heed when you do raise a complaint, since it happens so rarely. This can increase the chances that your boss listens to you when it is most important to do so.
Bosses are people too, even toxic ones. If your boss is incompetent and you have knowledge and experience he or she lacks, you owe it to the company to impart it, but do so tenderly and with compassion. An incompetent boss likely knows he or she is incompetent and is likely insecure about it.
Your boss does not need you to make him or her feel inadequate, but to gently and respectfully walk him or her through the gaps in his or her skill set. Your place is not to judge your boss’s personality quirks. Everyone has them, even you. Your place is to help your boss support you in performing at your best for the benefit of the company.
Use Alternative Communication Tactics
In extreme cases, such as when your commitment to your job is at stake or a boss is so toxic he or she is likely to provoke a walk-out, you may not be able to speak clearly and effectively face-to-face. Moreover, no matter how calm, clear and rational you may be, your boss may not be receptive to strong criticism.
Therefore, consider one of two options. If the problem is personal, between you and your boss, compose your thoughts into a simple and clear letter. Moreover, if all your co-workers have similar complaints, sit down with your boss and have a conversation as a group.
While a group intervention could have the opposite of its intended effect, if the alternative is quitting your job or seeing the company go under, it may be a risk worth taking. Whether you deliver your feedback in a letter or in a group meeting, it should be phrased in a non-threatening, constructive manner in order to minimize risks.
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