How to deal with a toxic boss

Tuesday November 9, 2010

At some point in everyone's working career there comes a time when we are bullied by our boss - the toxic boss. Performance coach Andrew May joined TODAY to advise on how to deal with them.

Toxic Bosses

The Screamer
Sadly, at one point, we've all worked for or with a screamer. Excessive yelling definitely makes for a toxic work environment. This type of boss doesn't need a reason to yell. It's just his or her style to scream at will.

How to deal with a screamer
Walk Away: Best solution is to stand up for yourself by walking away from a tirade. Bullies only scream at people they perceive to be weak - people who'll easily take it. As a kid, you may have had to sit still and take it from a parent, but not so at work. Refuse to subject yourself by walking away, going to the restroom, grabbing a cup of water, stepping outside. This is especially helpful if you're on the verge of getting emotional, which you don't want to do. Above all, remember that when you do nothing, when you just sit there and take it, you're giving the bully permission to continue. By doing nothing, you're saying, "This is OK," even though it's not.

The Demeaner
The demeaner makes humiliating comments - "You're such an idiot." "Could you be any dumber?" "My kids could do this better and faster than you any day." This person also uses humiliating gestures - rolling their eyes, using their hands dismissingly. This kind of toxic boss might also laugh at your ideas to belittle you. This kind of boss is particularly vexing because one of the most important characteristics that drives our excellence at work is our confidence in ourselves and our abilities. When we're demeaned, we naturally second-guess ourselves and our worth. That means we don't perform our best work. So it's counterproductive for the boss to treat people this way on the job, even though he or she doesn't see it.

How to deal a demeaner
Confront Calmly: If you work for a small business, there isn't an HR department to complain to about this, which means it's up to you to tackle it directly with the boss. Sit down with the boss and tell him or her that you're very proud of your skills and abilities and you're especially proud of the results you generate in this role - and you know the company does good work. But you're curious as to why someone who is so successful would resort to bully tactics when it accomplishes nothing. Make it clear that you don't mind constructive criticism but when you do X, Y, Z, it's not conducive to performing at your very best. If you go this route, make sure you share very specific examples. Instead of asking, "Why are you a bully?" say, "When you laugh at my ideas, call me this name, and compare me to your kids - like you did on these four occasions - those specific actions and comments prevent me from giving you and this company my absolute best. And I want very much to over-deliver for you, so I'd respectfully request that you stop doing this." Stick just to facts delivered in a reasoned manner.

The Schemer
The schemer attempts to undermine your status by repeatedly withholding key information from you, excluding you from e-mail distributions, and intentionally leaving you out of meetings when you ought to be in the loop. The schemer nitpicks and micromanages, somehow always finding fault with your work, and fails to give you credit for the good work you do. A demanding boss can push you to deliver the best and can set the bar high with big expectations for excellence, but the schemer is never satisfied because of barriers that he or she puts in your way.

How to deal with a schemer
Document Details: Complaining about these toxic tactics can make you seem petty "Oh, I wasn't invited to the meeting; oh, the boss never told me about this" so to avoid that impression, you want to document the details over time. It could be a couple of weeks or even a month where you write down exactly what happened, when, where and any witnesses, so it's all spelled out in meticulous detail. Keep copies of any supporting documentation. That prevents you from being brushed off as a petty complainer or thin-skinned. Depending on the size of your organization, you'll bring this to HR or you may have to go directly to the boss. You're not just going to report this behavior, but also going to demonstrate that it's impacting your work because it has created an uncomfortable or even hostile work environment. Even though bullying has been proven to be costly to the company's bottom line, which is why they should take action to nip this behavior, don't expect HR to be instantly on your side. HR works for the company's benefit, not that of any individual employee. If you don't find satisfaction, you may have to contact a labor lawyer who can advise you on your situation.

The effects of workplace bullying

  • Headaches and nausea
  • More serious illnesses resulting from a weakened immune system that makes them more vulnerable to disease

  • Depression or anxiety, which may lead to suicide or thoughts of suicide

  • Insomnia

  • Increased risk of work-related injury

Effects in the workplace

  • More mistakes are made by workers who can't concentrate because of their negative work environment

  • Workers compensation claims increase (eg injuries resulting from tiredness and poor concentration)

  • Highly trained and experienced workers resign and leave their jobs

  • Teamwork suffers because there is less cooperation and communication

  • Alcohol or drug abuse at work may increase

  • If nothing is done to stop the bullying, respect for the employer and loyalty to the company decrease
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