Wisdom//

7 Professional Strategies for Dealing With a Toxic Boss

When you're in the grips of an emotional bully, it's important not to take what they say to heart.

Image via Shutterstock
Image via Shutterstock

By Melanie Curtin

A toxic boss can ruin your work life. It can be stressful to go to work, be at work–even think about work.

Here are a few strategies to help manage a toxic boss:

1. Internalize that this is not your fault

When you’re in the grips of an emotional bully, it’s important to not take what they say to heart. Whether they use words, body language, passive-aggressive emails, or talking behind your back, you can start to believe what they say about you: that you don’t work hard; that you’re bad at your job; that you’re stupid.

You are not bad, wrong, or stupid. Your toxic boss calling you those things doesn’t make them true. In fact, your boss is the one displaying wrong behavior.

The trick is to not just intellectually grasp that this is not your fault but internalize it. Positive self-talk is critical when you’re regularly exposed to an emotional bully.

2. Document everything

Get everything in writing. Whether your boss promises a raise; a day off; snacks in the kitchen; or fewer hours on weekends, write down the conversation and the date. There’s a possibility you’ll need this in court later.

Speaking of legal action, know your rights. Review the labor laws and copyright laws for your state or area, and look at contracts you signed (including nondisclosure and noncompete agreements). Toxic bosses often break the law, sometimes in egregious ways.

If it comes to it, don’t be afraid to get an attorney, especially for labor law violations. Your city or state will often provide free help if your boss is doing shady stuff.

3. Take frequent walks

If you’ve just been energetically or emotionally “attacked” by your toxic boss, take a walk. Literally. Walking has been proven to soothe your nervous system, and your stress hormones just spiked. If you can walk outside in nature (even just a few trees), even better. Numerous studies point to the positive effect of nature on your nervous system. 

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4. If you can, scream in your car later

It’s important that you don’t bottle up your anger (which you have a right to). Pretend your toxic boss is in the passenger seat and say all the things you can’t say because they’re unprofessional, with all the profanity you want. Don’t hold it in; get it out. This is particularly helpful if you’re going home to loved ones. Get out the worst of it so you can be present with your family.

5. Support and validate co-workers

Toxic bosses affect everyone to one degree or another. If you witness your boss attacking someone else, find a way to let them know it’s not their fault, either. There’s a difference between gossiping and listening and empathizing. Helping your colleagues also helps you see the situation from a different angle and grasp just how bad it is.  

Know, too, that you will not be getting a good reference from your toxic boss. Let the idea of that go, and instead look for and cultivate allies. Other people (including those colleagues you’re supporting) will vouch for you and your work.

6. Connect with people you love

When you’re in the throes of a bully, your tendency may be to withdraw into yourself, lick your wounds, and just watch Netflix after work.

Of course, take a night off if you need to. But know that human connection is what’s going to get you through this. Now more than ever, it’s important to spend quality time with people you love, who love you. If you want to talk about the situation, great–but sometimes you don’t need to process it anymore. You just need to remember what it’s like to share a meal with a close friend, laugh, and feel joy.

7. Seriously consider quitting

The fact is, a lot of these strategies are just stopgap measures, because working for a toxic boss is exhausting. It takes immense energy reserves to manage the stress, and on top of that try to do your job.

If it’s getting to the point where you are regularly experiencing anxiety or depression because of this person (or the overall work environment), quit as soon as you safely can. Exposure to stress hormones over time is very, very bad for your physical and emotional health. There are obviously circumstances where you need to stay for survival reasons, but if you are in a position to get out, do it.  

You deserve to feel safe and respected at work as well as outside it. 

Originally Published on Inc.

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