3 Signs You Have a Toxic Boss and What to Do About It


“With a good boss there are no bad jobs and with a bad boss there are no good jobs.”

Who you work for can make or break your career and having a toxic boss affects more than just your job. It can affect your ability to contribute to the team, grow with the company, and your life outside of work. But secretly plotting ways to destroy your boss isn't the answer. Unfortunately, we don't have the power to change what other people say or do. But the good news is that we do have the power to change our thoughts and control our reactions. The best way to handle a toxic boss is to empower yourself by managing your emotions and responding appropriately to negative situations. 

Here are 3 signs you have a toxic boss and some tips on how to handle the situation.

1. They take credit for your ideas.

The situation: You follow procedures and share your ideas or feedback with your boss. However, you find out your boss is passing ideas off your ideas as their own.

If this is happening, it’s important to know this is more about them than it is about you. If your boss is stealing your ideas or taking credit for your work, it's probably because they’re too insecure to pass on the praise to you. It may be difficult, but try to feel flattered they thought your ideas were good enough to use. Try to feel some type of vindication that you're smart and have "steal worthy" ideas.

What to do: If the situation persists it may be time to have a conversation with your boss. The next time they share your ideas, send a follow-up response saying “I'm so glad you passed along my ideas. If there is any follow-up action needed on what I shared with you, please let me know so I can implement."

This is a professional way to let them know you’ve taken ownership of the idea you shared and are aware of what they’re doing without coming across as accusatory or defensive.

2. They pretend they know what they are doing.

The situation: Upper management assigns your boss a project that they don’t have the skills to complete. Because your boss doesn’t want to admit they're clueless, they make mistakes and then blame you when it’s done incorrectly.  

It’s frustrating when someone who doesn’t have the needed skills to complete a task refuses to admit they need help. It not only creates more work when someone doesn’t know what they’re doing, but it’s detrimental to the morale of the project. As tempting as it might be to immediately go to your boss’s boss and tell them your boss doesn’t know what they’re doing, in the end, it only makes you look bad and unfortunately, it won’t change anything.  

What to do: The best thing to do is be as sympathetic as you can. Instead of getting annoyed or frustrated, offer in a non-threatening way to help by saying something like “I know you have a lot on your plate, would you like me to assist you with this project?" If they agree, it gives you the opportunity to train them in reverse by sharing how you completed the project.

However, if they start giving you all the work they don’t know how to do, then you need to set boundaries. Tell your boss you appreciate the trust they place in you, but you have a full workload and can’t take on another project. Be sure to mention how the extra workload is affecting your performance. Remember, you decide how people treat you. If your boss is taking advantage of you, make sure you set the appropriate boundaries and let them know what is acceptable. As a precaution, document the conversation just as a way to protect yourself in case your boss tries to use the situation against you. 

3. They speak to you disrespectfully.

The situation: Your boss regularly speaks to you in a disrespectful tone of voice, uses inappropriate language or makes you feel like you're not good at your job.

We’re all human and there are times when the work environment becomes stressful, which unfortunately causes us to react poorly or snap at others. Though our natural instinct may be to react negatively when someone is disrespectful, it’s better not to react.

What to Do: Step away from the situation and take the time to collect your thoughts and emotions. Doing so prevents the situation from becoming more emotionally heated and will allow you to respond in an appropriate way.

Once you’ve collected yourself, schedule a time to meet with your boss. Start the conversation by asking for feedback on your work performance. Let your boss know you feel like you’re doing well, but you would like to hear their thoughts and see what they say. If there is something wrong with your performance, this will give them an opportunity to address the areas where you could improve.

However, if they indicate they’re satisfied with your performance, let them know you’ve felt tension in the past and be sure to include a specific example. Sometimes, people aren’t aware of how their words or actions come across. Hopefully, if those things are brought to their attention, the situation will change. But if the situation persists, document each incident and schedule a meeting with your HR team to review the information.

The most important thing to remember if you find yourself in this situation is to make sure not to emotionally react. Take time to understand the situation from their perspective and then speak to them directly about it. Keep the conversation focused on your work performance to prevent them from becoming too emotional and if necessary, contact your HR team about the incidents.

If you find yourself in a work environment unsuitable for your continued professional growth and development, it may be time to consider a career change. Before you begin the process of finding a new job, be sure to sign up for my free course, “3 Days to a Perfect Resume”

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