If you’re stuck working for a toxic boss whose bad behavior negatively impacts you––destroying your job satisfaction or creating stress that you take home––the situation quickly becomes personal. But what if you’re trapped in your job due to financial need or the lack of other job prospects?
The approach you choose depends on the circumstances and the degree to which your boss controls your career future. You can stand your ground mentally and emotionally without feeling destroyed or you can more assertively let your boss know you won’t play their game.
Maintain your sense of self-worth
Your self-worth comes from within. Toxic bosses can’t steal that unless you give them the power. How do you fight back? Don’t absorb their belittling attacks. If you catch yourself responding to unfair criticism with your own negative self-talk, remember that your boss’s words say much about them and nothing about you.
Play by your own rules
Learn to think strategically. Instead of playing your boss’s toxic game, play by your own rules. If you work for a passive-aggressive boss who covertly attacks, remember he fears directness. When he starts a snarky rant, turn the tables and ask, “What would you have me do differently?” and watch him back down.
If you work for an over-controlling boss, copy him on emails and flood him with regular updates, so he’ll feel like he’s always in control. Over-perform until he backs off.
If you work for an angry boss, learn his triggers and avoid setting him off.
If you work for a micro-manager who looks at the clock when you arrive at work and leave for the day, don’t fret. Simply just arrive and leave on time.
Don’t make their problem yours
Don’t try to beat them at their game. If you sink to their level of poor treatment, name-calling or finger-pointing, you infect yourself. Instead, rise above their treatment by taking their finger off your buttons and responding with grace under pressure. Remind yourself what you’re doing well, both in your job performance and in your increasing skills at handling a difficult person.
Focus on solutions, not problems
Where you focus your attention on your toxic boss and the problems they create, you prolong the negative emotions and stress you feel. Instead, focus on solutions. What actions can you take that give you back power and control – including looking for another job?
Detox through support
Toxic people take a toll. Strengthen yourself by developing and using allies who can provide you with new perspectives and insight. Even if you simply explain what’s happening to a friend, she may suggest a new way to handle your boss. If nothing else, you’ll feel better when you know others are rooting for you.
Finally, you can decide “this far and no further.” While toxic bosses may rule their organizations or departments, they don’t rule the world. If your boss discriminates illegally against you and you’re a member of a protected category (for example, based on your age, sex, race, pregnancy, or a part of another statutorily protected group) seek help from your state’s Human Rights Commission or from the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
If a toxic boss lashes out at you because you’ve engaged in a protected activity, such as protecting your right to work in a safe workplace, document the situation and bring it to the attention of the relevant regulatory body.