You’re not alone. We’ve all dealt with a bad manager at some point.
There’s no sugarcoating it. Bad bosses will leave you feeling angry and frustrated. All you want is to do a good job and go home.
So what are the signs of a toxic boss? And how can you handle them? Let’s start here:
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Bad Boss vs. Bad Person
First, let’s figure out which category your boss falls in.
We can classify a bad boss as someone who doesn’t give the direction, guidance, or encouragement you need to do a good job.
A bad person, on the other hand, could be someone you don’t get along with due to more personal reasons.
Such as, god forbid, a manager who makes you feel uncomfortable due to sexual advances. Or a boss who bullies you at work.
These distinctions are important.
Why? Because if you’re looking for tips on how to deal with an abusive boss, then my advice is this:
You need to decide whether staying at that job is in your best interest.
I never recommend anyone to stay in an unhealthy work environment. That’s one of the biggest career mistakes you can ever make.
Now, if your boss is just a bad manager, then I can help you fix it.
So let’s address the common management mistakes that some bosses make:
“Having a bad boss isn’t your fault. Staying with one is.”
– Nora Denzel
We all know this one. This is the boss who makes you feel like you’re being watched 24/7. The constant hovering can be uncomfortable.
They closely check out your work, often making you redo or tweak it to meet their standard.
Their management style leaves you wondering:
It’s not about you as an employee, it’s more about them as your boss.
“I’d have better people skills if I worked with better people.”
How to Handle it
A micromanager is only happy when they’re constantly watching you – and that’s one of the clearest signs of a toxic boss.
You have to prove yourself as independent and capable. To do that, you’ll need to get rid of any reason for them to micromanage you.
So three things are important here:
1. You should learn to understand what they’re looking for – and act on it
2. You have to regularly communicate what you’re up to
3. You need to recognize trends in their behavior
So let’s start with the first one:
I’m willing to bet that most of the things you do at work are things you already know you’re supposed to do.
So it gets frustrating when your boss always reminds you about the report due (because you do it every week).
You should know what you need to do and get it done early.
If you tell your boss, “I actually already put the report on your desk,” enough times, then it’ll send a clear signal that you don’t need babysitting.
They’ll start to realize that you don’t need them to watch you 24/7.
The next thing you’ll want to do is routinely check in with them. In other words, beat them to it.
This might mean telling them, “I went ahead and put the report on your desk” or sending an email that says, “I’m sending the report over.”
This reinforces that you can handle your work on your own.
Lastly, you’ll need to recognize patterns in their behavior. Aka, how they treat you and other employees.
What things are they most likely to criticize?
For example, if your boss is picky about what does and doesn’t need to be included in a report, make sure you know about it.
Do it their way.
Of course, these are rational ways of handling the micromanager.
But you and I both know that not all people are rational. After all, it’s one of the warning signs of a bad boss.
So it’s very possible that your boss is irrational, or worse – neurotic.
If that’s your situation, you either have to learn to gain your satisfaction from within or search for something better.
You can’t let your boss’ obsessive behavior make you feel incapable and discouraged. That’ll only lead to more stress and lower your performance.
Remember, a good report without a staple is still a good report. Know your worth even when someone tries to pick you apart.
This one is tricky because it’s not one of the clear signs of a toxic boss. Regardless, it’s still an issue that many people face.
It’s the boss that got promoted to their position without much thought. They very obviously cannot handle their job.
It doesn’t make them totally incapable. But, there’s a chance that people who work underneath them could do a better job than they can.
And if you’re one of those people, this can be a hard pill to swallow.
It’s demotivating and makes you feel like hard work and experience mean nothing.
“Show respect even to people that don’t deserve it; not as a reflection of their character, but as a reflection of yours.”
– Dave Willis
How to Handle it
When you find yourself getting annoyed with this type of manager, it’s usually because you have the expertise that they don’t.
I want you to swallow your pride. You should never undermine your boss.
Instead, try to share your experience and tips to genuinely help. Offer your guidance in a way that doesn’t come across as demeaning or condescending.
Consider this as information that your boss should have to succeed at their job.
Chances are, this will allow you to become their right-hand person. It could mean they’ll return the favor for you somewhere down the road.
After all, as many as 80% of jobs are filled through networking.
Learn from the mistakes they make – chances are they’ll make a few – and remember those as you move up the ladder yourself.
The Overly Friendly
This is the boss that’s too “buddy buddy.” And I don’t mean in the cool, team-building sort of way.
They’re always asking you to hang out or grab a drink. They text and call employees for non-work related stuff. They’re a little too involved in office politics.
This boss usually picks favorites. As a result, it divides employees and kills morale.
They let their favorites get away with more but they hold others to a higher standard.
Sometimes it even means they keep certain employees around that should’ve been let go.
While this might not be one of the obvious signs of a toxic boss at first, it certainly is one.
“There’s no better vacation than my boss being on vacation.”
How to Handle it
You have to set boundaries. You know what they say: good fences make good neighbors.
Setting your limits will allow you to take control of the situation. If you become too friendly with this type of boss, then you may never get rid of them.
The trick is to be friendly but not too friendly to the point where you feel like you can’t say “no” to drinks after work. Be consistent with your boundaries, even when they’re overly pushy.
Note that there’s a fine line here. You don’t want to take it overboard and become standoffish. Don’t create an enemy where you don’t have to.
Don’t share too much personal information about yourself. Listen more than you speak.
Focus on getting your work done and being busy. If they invite you to something outside of work, don’t be afraid to come up with an excuse on why you can’t make it.
Or politely tell them that you don’t want to muddle the waters between business and personal.
The Dictator’s main concern is having power and keeping it. The decisions they make are to feed their ego.
They don’t mind using intimidation tactics and negative reinforcement to shape behavior.
If someone challenges their decisions or does something different, they’re seen as a direct threat.
And of all the career questions we get, how to deal with a demanding boss is one of the most common.
In this case, I recommend that you find another job. It’s not worth staying at a job with a boss who makes you miserable.
I once worked somewhere where the boss described himself as a dictator. He brought it up frequently in meetings and wore it like a badge of honor.
Finding a new job takes time, but there are ways to handle this situation in the meantime.
“I am thankful for all those difficult people in my life. They have shown me exactly who I do not want to be.”
How to Handle it
This strategy may hurt a little; but, the best way to deal with a dictator is to present your ideas in a way that lets them take credit.
Why? Because it protects their ego.
So be generous with giving credit, even though they probably won’t return the favor. This will put and keep you in their good graces until you find something else.
And make sure you pick and choose your battles wisely.
A dictator can be short-tempered and rude. So be self-aware and keep a tight rein on your emotions.
They often look for a good reason to let someone go. This means the company tends to have high turn-over rates.
So keep calm and carry on until you land a new job.
In the mind of the impersonal boss, you’re just a number.
You’re employee 16 out of 28.
Out of all the customers you’ve talked to today, you’ve made sales with 2 of them.
Your last performance review was 88 out of 100.
You’ve called out twice in the past 6 months.
See where I’m going with this?
This boss makes decisions based on data. And when it comes to making a decision without numbers, they self-destruct.
They make little to no effort to develop a rapport with you or others. They simply look to their data to decide who gets a raise, bonus, or let go.
And if being overly friendly is one of the signs of a toxic boss, so is being impersonal.
“You are not your resume, you are your work.”
– Seth Godin
How to Handle it
To deal with this type of person, you need to learn their language.
When you have a new idea to bring to the table, make sure that you have the data to back it up.
The same thing goes with performance reviews – make sure you bring value that can be expressed in numbers.
For example, mention the fact that you’ve increased sales by 22% in the last 6 months. Or scored 92% on your customer reviews.
Once you’ve proved your worth, you can try to bring them out of their awkward shell by connecting with them.
Try to get face-to-face with them to develop rapport. Respond to their emails by knocking on their office door.
This will put a face to your name and make you more than just a number.
Just make sure to do these things in small increments so you don’t overwhelm them. Over time, they’ll start seeing you as more than just a number.
Their biggest strength is that they’re full of ideas.
But, they’re unable to hone on one thing long enough to do anything about it. They can’t focus on what needs to be done because they’re focused on the next big thing.
So when the opportunity comes for your team to put the dream into action, the dreamer is already thinking about something else, and you’re left to handle everything by yourself.
“What you allow is what will continue.”
How to Handle it
You have to reverse their train of thought. The dreamer’s motto is, “I don’t like getting bogged down by the little details.”
They take a broad approach to everything, so you have to be quick.
Try to make things practical. Here’s what I mean:
Ask a lot of very specific questions that force them to develop a rational approach. This will help identify any bumps in the road – and ways to handle them.
But, don’t directly discount their ideas or else you might insult them.
Instead, focus their attention on what needs to be done in order to actually put the dream into action.
More often than not, your questions will help calm them down and allow them to see another perspective.
It’ll make them more likely to commit to something instead of leaving you with all the work.
The Around-the-Clock Boss
This boss has no life outside of work.
They will not hesitate to call, text, or email you after work hours and on the weekends. Everything is usually an emergency on their part.
It leaves you thinking:
Couldn’t you have waited to tell me this tomorrow at work?
Meanwhile, they’re wanting to tell you every little work-related thing that pops into their head.
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself, any direction you choose.”
– Dr. Suess
How to Handle it
The manager that never leaves you alone is one of the common signs of a toxic boss.
But here’s the good news:
They know you’re valuable. Why else would they care about reaching you after work?
So you should continue to cultivate and reinforce your role as a valuable employee.
The more this boss needs you, the more willing they’ll be to respect your privacy when you talk to them about it.
You should politely tell your boss that you’re busy after-hours.
Meanwhile, make it a point to stop by their office in the late afternoon and on Fridays to have “check-ins.”
Is there anything you and I need to go over before we leave?
It might even be effective to type up a weekly (or even daily) progress report on what you’ve done. This will let them know what you’re working on, what you need to do next, and help ease their behavior.
(This can also help with micromanagers since they both share this type of behavior)
At the end of the day, business is like a game.
It’s about who needs who more.
Does your boss need your services more than you need the job? If so, you’re in the power position.
Do you need your job more than your boss needs your services? If so, you’re in the weaker position.
There are a million ways to handle bad bosses. So the best piece of advice I can give you is to always search for better.
Better benefits, better pay, better hours, and better work-life balance.
Even if you like your job, always search for something better. This will ensure you’ll always come out on top.
Let me know in the comments, what type of boss are you dealing with?
And as always, thanks for reading.