#AskRevela – Toxic Boss
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Last year, in an article from our #AskRevela series, we addressed the question of how to deal with a toxic person on your team. We examined possible reasons and tips for handling someone who is less-than-pleasant. We looked at it from the perspective of a peer or direct report. But what about a toxic boss? What if that person is your manager? So here’s today’s question…
This might come as a surprise, but our solution isn’t about “fixing” your supervisor at all. It’s about managing yourself. Research has shown that one of the main reasons people leave a company is because of a bad boss. Then there are studies about people who stayed, measuring their level of “miserableness.” (It’s a technical term.) So, history shows that people either choose to leave the company, or they choose to stay and be miserable. But these aren’t your only two choices. You could choose Option C.
“Every person operates through a set of beliefs, ideas, and experiences that shape their actions and behaviors.”
There’s probably a multitude of factors that went into creating your toxic boss. And there are all different kinds of toxic bosses: the micromanager, the passive-aggressive boss, the overly-confident boss, the incompetent boss; the list goes on. But regardless of the type of boss, our advice is the same.
Every person operates through a set of beliefs, ideas, and experiences that shape their actions and behaviors. Figure out what makes them tick. You probably know what makes you tick; what makes your spouse tick; maybe you even know what makes some of your closest co-workers tick. But instead of complaining about all the things your manager has done, why not let go of the past?
Perception is often reality and once people get an idea in their head about someone or something, it can be difficult to get them to think differently. Dig a little deeper, focusing on an intent to understand, to find out what makes him tick. Don’t pass judgment. Why does he do the things he does? What is motivating or exciting for him? What does he fear? And what beliefs does he hold? Seek to understand what’s behind these toxic behaviors, and stop blaming. Gaining this understanding will make the next steps much easier.
Give a little.
Once you’ve let go of the blame, you can make adjustments. This is where you start speaking the language of your toxic boss, and that requires you to give a little. For example, a micromanager likely prefers work to be done in a particular way. She thrives on making sure her team is adequately performing and maybe even fears being seen as incompetent. So instead of pushing back every step of the way, take the time to check-in. Look for trends in her feedback: likes, dislikes, attitudes, body language, etc. This will help you hone in on the things that are at the root of her fixation. Just like adjusting communication to accommodate others, sometimes, all we have to do is make a small adjustment to keep our micromanager in the loop.
“People are allowed to feel rushed, stressed, or have headaches – even a toxic boss. It’s not always about you.”
Another example would be speaking the language of the over-confident boss. This type of toxic boss is probably seen as arrogant, powerful, and maybe even a little intimidating. He likely thrives on being the best and proving himself, resulting in a fear of failure. Did you do the majority of the project on your own? Maybe, but he’s your manager. Give him partial credit. Know that he is unlikely to give you credit for much, but that’s where your forgiveness and power of positive thinking comes in. You have to find your internal motivation in this scenario. You can challenge this boss but do so carefully. The goal is a win/win situation, but that’s not always going to be possible, and you have to learn to be okay with that. No matter the type, you have to give a little.
Through a series of interviews our team once did internally, we found out that some of us on the team internalize the things that happen on a day-to-day basis. Whatever interaction we had, we made it about us, even when it wasn’t. If our supervisor had a frown on her face, we automatically went into “Oh Sh!t” mode, wondering what we did to upset her. We were internalizing it; when in reality, she just had a headache.
If another team member came into work without a single greeting, we’d automatically think, “She’s in a mood.” And in reality, she was just in a hurry. What you look for, you find. And the more you internalize every interaction with a manager you’ve already deemed as “toxic,” the more you’ll find instances in which he/she behaves according to what you believe. People are allowed to feel rushed, stressed, or have headaches – even a toxic boss. It’s not always about you.
And finally, believe.
Believe in positive intent. Believe that people want to be successful. This concept is at the core of every single thing we do here at Revela. Even your toxic boss wants to be successful; it’s just the way that they go about it that affects others. And maybe, he/she doesn’t even realize the negative impact that’s been made on the team’s morale as a result of their actions. Believe in people.
“Even your toxic boss wants to be successful; it’s just the way that they go about it that affects others.”
Here’s the reality. You can’t “fix” people. People can only change themselves. If your boss is truly toxic, there will likely come a time when you won’t have to deal with that person any longer. But if you love where you work or you love what you do, you have to find a way to see the light, even on the dark days. You can’t stop behaviors from happening or from affecting the rest of your team, but using these steps, you can increase your ability to neutralize the situation.
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