Four Signs Your Boss is Toxic, And How to Handle It

A toxic boss can ruin a great work environment and leave a wake of drama. You can let it take you down, or take initiative to stay out of the drama and be a positive influence.

Four signs your boss is toxic:

  1. Questions motives instead of asking curious questions. Toxic bosses regularly jump to conclusions and assume nefarious intentions. If they would ask curious questions instead, they’d find out that most people are doing their best and trying to do the right thing.
  2. Motivates with intimidation. Toxic bosses are willing to undermine dignity to get what they want. They believe they are OK and others are not-OK, which enables them to sleep at night even when they abuse their people during the day.
  3. Lacks awareness. Toxic bosses lack insight into their own behavior, motivations, or impact on others. They are clueless about how ineffective they are.
  4. Low emotional intelligence. Toxic bosses have a toxic relationship with their own emotions. They don’t know how to express them in healthy ways, and they don’t know how to deal effectively with other people’s emotions.

Four tips for handling a toxic boss:

  1. Ask proactive questions about their vision, opinions and ideas. Don’t wait until they attack you or question your motives. Instead, go after what’s in their head with questions like, “What’s your vision for this project?” or “What are the most important things you think we should focus on?”
  2. Balance backbone with respect. Contrary to what you may think, cowering in front of a toxic boss only makes things worse. Likewise, confronting or getting into power struggles is bad idea. Present yourself as confident but not arrogant. Match their negative energy with the same level of positive energy focused toward solutions. 
  3. Be the catalyst. Position yourself to help your boss excel. Instead of cleaning up his messes, offer solutions that make him look good and leverage his positive qualities. Present your ideas with caveats like, “I have an idea that could help get a lot more buy-in for your plan,” or “The board has been on your case recently. I’d be willing to look at ways we can beef up communication so they better understand the good work you are doing.”
  4. Deliver solutions that soothe emotional pain. Underneath the bluster, toxic bosses are usually afraid that they can’t deliver and won’t be seen as worthy. Their toxic behaviors usually reveal desperation to feel respected, worthy, or confident. When you show them you are capable and confident to deliver on their promises and lower risk of negative outcomes, it helps soothe their pain.

Are you a toxic boss? Do you want help learning how to be a positive influence without all the drama? Would you like to learn how to turn drama into positive energy?

Attend one of our adaptive communication and positive conflict courses.


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