Stop Making Excuses for Toxic Bosses (2022)

Summary.

If you’ve ever worked for a toxic boss, you know how damaging it can be. So should you forgive a manager who tries to make amends for their bad behavior? A new study shows that most abusive bosses care more about their social image than actually changing how they act. Using anonymous self-reported surveys with bosses across a range of industries, the researchers asked about behaviors and motives. Based on their findings, they conclude that toxic bosses are not likely to change their ways, and they warn employees and company leaders that giving bosses a pass when they abuse employees but act nice afterwards. Doing so may end up reinforcing the cycle of mistreatment that pervades many companies.

Far too many people have worked for a boss who has bullied or belittled them. This behavior takes many forms: insulting direct reports in public, invading their privacy, or gossiping about them behind their backs. Toxic actions such as these contribute to not only employee dissatisfaction and stress, but even more harmful outcomes such as alcoholism, family conflict, and health complaints. Yet, abusive bosses continue to wreak havoc and leave destruction in their wake. Why, then, does it seem that organizations and employees put up with toxic bosses?

(Video) Signs Of a Gaslighting Boss (Is Your Manager Gaslighting You?)

In a recent study published in Personnel Psychology, we examined one possibility: After a run-in with a toxic boss, the tendency of many people is to heed what Abraham Lincoln called the “better angels of our nature” and forgive the indiscretion, especially when the boss appears to be making amends for their uncivil behavior. For example, former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson was notoriously ruthless toward his staff, constantly berating them in public, calling for favors at all hours of the night, and throwing objects at them when they did not work as quickly as they wanted. George Reedy, a long-time aide of President Johnson, wrote in a memoir about how Johnson’s cruelty extended “even to people who had virtually walked the last mile for him.” However, it seemed that whenever Reedy considered resigning, Johnson would present “a lavish gift” or do something else that made it so Reedy “forgot his grievances” and kept working for Johnson. However, Johnson’s abusive behavior toward Reedy persisted — and even worsened — during the 15 years they worked together.

It may be that bosses, like Johnson, are not really trying to make nice with employees after an abusive tirade, but, rather, are attempting to fake nice in order to manipulate their social image without actually changing their behavior. In other words, some bosses are skilled at looking good after an episode, leading employees and higher ups to forgive and forget — until the next tirade occurs and the cycle continues. If this is true, employees and organizations may be unknowingly enabling toxic boss behavior by being too forgiving of it.

How Bosses Act After Abusing Employees

In our study, we examined this possibility using a daily survey approach; this enabled us to uncover the motives and behaviors of abusive bosses in “real time” with a sample of people that past studies argue have the keenest insight into those motives and behaviors: the bosses themselves. In particular, we surveyed 79 bosses that volunteered to participate in our study via an online platform. Their responses were anonymous so that they would be more candid about their abusive behaviors and feelings at work. These bosses — who worked across various organizations and industries, such as consulting, education, healthcare, and retail — were surveyed twice per day for 15 consecutive workdays across three weeks to understand how they felt and responded when they abused their subordinates. Specifically, each morning we asked supervisors about their abusive behaviors the day before by inquiring about whether they told their subordinates they were incompetent, invaded their subordinates’ privacy, or made negative comments about their subordinates to others the day before. At the same time, we asked the bosses how they felt their prior-day behaviors impacted their current moral and social standing. Finally, later that same day, we asked them how they subsequently behaved toward their subordinates throughout the day.

(Video) How to Take Advantage of a Bad Boss - Jocko Willink

We found that when bosses reported having abused their employees, they viewed their social image as being damaged, with this effect being especially pronounced among those who reported at the outset of the study that it was important to them that they appear moral to their employees. In other words, among those bosses who were highly focused on having an image of adhering to a strict moral code, engaging in abusive behaviors, such as ridiculing employees, made them feel more concerned with their social image.

As a result, the offending bosses reported taking multiple steps to repair their social image. Specifically, they reported that they engaged in impression management behaviors, such as doing small favors for employees with the express purpose of getting employees to view them more favorably, while also engaging in self-promoting behaviors like highlighting how hard they work or showcasing past successes. However, these bosses did not admit to engaging in behaviors aimed at genuinely repairing the damage done by the prior-day abuse, such as offering a sincere apology.

Consequently, even though abusive bosses may appear on the surface to be considerate to their victims following one of their abusive episodes, the bosses in our study reported behavior that was instead a superficial attempt at impression management. As a result, toxic bosses were not likely to change their ways, mainly because their focus was on covering up their bad behavior through manipulative ingratiation and self-promotion behaviors, not on actually changing their toxic behaviors.

(Video) Toxic Bosses You Should Avoid

Stemming the Cycle of Abusive Leadership

In the end, our research offers a word of warning: by giving bosses a pass when they abuse employees but act nice afterwards, organizational leaders and employees end up reinforcing the cycle of mistreatment that pervades so many companies. Unfortunately, it appears from our research and that of others that toxic bosses don’t change as much as we would like them to — instead, the bad behavior tends to continue or, oftentimes, gets worse. Even when abusive bosses may appear genuinely repentant after a tirade, they usually have ulterior, self-interested motives. Our research shows that there is little organizational leaders can do to break the cycle of self-centered, manipulative, and uncivil behaviors, other than implementing zero-tolerance policies for toxic supervisory behavior and consistently adhering to those policies, even when bosses appear to strive to make up for their bad behaviors. Sanctions, rather than forgiveness, are important, especially since past research has indicated that sanctions curtail abusive behavior.

That said, a boss’s behavior can never be fully regulated by organizational policy; in the end, whether a boss fails to exhibit common decency and civil behavior to his employees is ultimately up to them. Sincere apologies and reconciliations on the part of the offending boss are the only sustainable way of regaining credibility and moving forward from a lapse in civil behavior. Further, engaging in these surface-level efforts to manipulate employees’ perceptions can be draining for supervisors; as such, acting genuinely is imperative. The best course of action for offending bosses is to be cognizant of their own motives and behaviors in the aftermath of an abusive outburst.

Some have recommended that bosses take time each day to reflect on their motives in order to stay motivated. Indeed, we urge the same type of reflection when it comes to behavioral lapses. If bosses take time each day to honestly appraise their own behavior and motives, and to carefully reflect on the impact of their behavior on their subordinates, they may be able to really make nice instead of fake nice in the wake of a transgression.

(Video) How To Deal With A Difficult Boss - Tips for Handling a Challenging Boss

FAQs

How do you respond to a toxic boss? ›

Part 1 — Deal with the work.
  1. Get out. The most important survival tactic is to get out as soon as you can. Utilize your network. ...
  2. Deliver results. Toxic bosses don't care about how you feel. ...
  3. Tell him what he wants to hear. As you're delivering results, you'll need to report progress.

How do you outsmart a toxic boss? ›

8 Savvy Ways to Outsmart Your Jerk Boss
  1. Learn the difference between a difficult boss and a bully. ...
  2. Know if you're a typical target. ...
  3. Then make yourself bully-proof. ...
  4. Rally your coworkers' support. ...
  5. Expose his or her bad side. ...
  6. Don't go to HR. ...
  7. Instead, complain upwards. ...
  8. Get emotional support so you can quit.

How do you set boundaries with a toxic boss? ›

10 Ways to Reinforce Your Boundaries to a Toxic Boss
  1. Effective Ways to Set Boundaries at Work. ...
  2. Stay Firm. ...
  3. Don't Neglect Your Gut. ...
  4. Don't Be Afraid To Say, “I'm Not Comfortable.” ...
  5. Don't Apologize. ...
  6. Communicate. ...
  7. Say No Graciously. ...
  8. Advocate For Yourself.
13 Apr 2022

How do you not let a bad boss go to you? ›

Try one or more of these tips to find some common ground with your boss—or at least stay sane until you find a new gig.
  1. Make Sure You're Dealing With a “Bad Boss” ...
  2. Identify Your Boss' Motivation. ...
  3. Don't Let it Affect Your Work. ...
  4. Stay One Step Ahead. ...
  5. Set Boundaries. ...
  6. Stop Assuming They Know Everything. ...
  7. Act as the Leader.
24 Jan 2022

What to do when your boss puts you down? ›

What to Do When Your Boss Talks Down to You: 7 Easy Steps
  1. Is It Me or My Boss?
  2. Remain Calm and Respectful.
  3. Best Option: Respond in the Moment.
  4. Good Option: Followup Afterwards.
  5. OK Option: Ignore the Problem.
  6. Have Some Patience.
  7. Realize Going to HR Probably Won't Help.

What are the traits of a toxic boss? ›

Toxic Boss Characteristics
  • Rude.
  • Discriminatory.
  • Dismissive.
  • Hateful.
  • Unkind.
  • Condescending.
  • Resentful.
  • Lack of emotional intelligence.
13 Sept 2022

What bosses should not say to employees? ›

Here are 10 phrases leaders should never use when speaking to employees.
  • “Do what I tell you to do. ...
  • “Don't waste my time; we've already tried that before.” ...
  • “I'm disappointed in you.” ...
  • “I've noticed that some of you are consistently arriving late for work. ...
  • “You don't need to understand why we're doing it this way.

How do you set boundaries with a narcissistic boss? ›

Here are seven effective approaches:
  1. Don't justify, explain, or defend yourself. ...
  2. Leave when it doesn't feel healthy. ...
  3. Decide what you will tolerate and what you won't. ...
  4. Learn to artfully sidestep intrusive questions or negative comments. ...
  5. Take the bully by the horns. ...
  6. Don't underestimate the power of narcissism.
30 Jun 2020

What is Mother manager syndrome? ›

“I would describe the 'mother-manager syndrome' as wanting to have a more personal relationship with your team than is reasonable at work,” Palmer explains, noting that the “office mom” also looks to boost company morale by making the team comfortable sharing personal experiences — travel, illness, family and all ...

What are some examples of professional boundaries? ›

Professional boundaries typically include the scheduled length and time of a session, limits of personal disclosure, limits regarding the use of touch, consistent fee setting and the general tone of the professional relationship.

How bad bosses ruin good employees? ›

Bad bosses don't really value their employees, and the employees can feel it. In turn, they stop making their best effort. When you don't feel appreciated and valued, you are less likely to bring your best self to work, and you are less likely to flourish on your projects.

How do you deal with a manipulative boss? ›

You can't change other people, but you can develop skills to protect yourself from being manipulated by others.
  1. Know Your Basic, Human Rights. You have the right to be treated with respect. ...
  2. Keep Your Distance. ...
  3. Have a Backbone. ...
  4. Ask Probing Questions. ...
  5. Do Not Blame Yourself.
10 Jun 2014

What do you do when your boss disrespects you? ›

What to Do When Your Boss Disrespects You
  1. Ignore the Hostility. One way to learn how to stand up to a rude boss is by, well, sitting down. ...
  2. Try Not to Take It Personally. Chances are, your boss's hostility isn't about you. ...
  3. Be Strong. ...
  4. Communicate Your Concerns.

How do you respond to a criticism of your boss? ›

Here's our recommended approach for managing your emotions:
  1. Step 1: Stay Calm. The first thing to do is remain calm, whether the criticism comes from a colleague or a boss. ...
  2. Step 2: Repeat the Criticism. ...
  3. Step 3: Open Up Both Perspectives. ...
  4. Step 4: Move On Politely.

How do you tell your boss he is disrespectful? ›

How to Communicate With a Rude Boss
  1. Confront the Rude Behavior. Rude behavior is a form of selfishness and disrespect for other people, and is characterized by demeaning remarks, offensive comments and interrupting. ...
  2. Try a Humorous Approach. ...
  3. Communicate Your Concerns by Email. ...
  4. Express Your Concerns in Person.

How do you talk to a condescending boss? ›

How to Deal with a Condescending Boss
  1. Keep your cool.
  2. Smile and respond with something positive.
  3. Share in their frustration.
  4. Focus on solving the problem at hand.
  5. Take a step back to evaluate their behavior.
  6. Imagine things from their perspective.
  7. Try to interact face-to-face if you can.

What are toxic leadership behaviors? ›

Toxic leaders employ narcissistic behavior patterns, believing that they are always right and their team members are wrong. Driven by narcissism, they value their self-interests over the well-being of their team, using their toxic behavior to fuel their self-confidence and self-promotion. 2.

What is the toxic triangle of leadership? ›

The toxic triangle: Destructive leaders, susceptible followers, and conducive environments.

Why are toxic leaders often so popular? ›

There are several key reasons for our attraction to toxic leaders: First, strong yearnings for toxic leaders percolate up from our unconscious, where psychological needs send us in search of authority figures who can offer us comfort and promise to satisfy some of our deepest longings.

What to do if your boss belittles you in front of others? ›

4 things to do if your boss bashes you in front of other employees
  1. Confront your boss about the problem. ...
  2. Focus on the details of the issue. ...
  3. Check in regularly with your boss to avoid further issues. ...
  4. Look for a new job.
4 Aug 2017

How do you tell if you are being pushed out of your job? ›

Telltale signs your company is trying to push you out:

They're not giving you new assignments. You're being passed over for promotion. You're not being called into important meetings. They're taking work off your plate.

How do you know your boss doesn't like you? ›

Here are seven revealing signs that your boss just isn't that into you and what to do about it.
  1. You're Being Micromanaged. ...
  2. You Never Get Feedback. ...
  3. You Get Turned Down for a Raise Without Much Explanation. ...
  4. You Can't Get Your Manager's Attention. ...
  5. You're Left Out of Important Meetings.
19 Jun 2020

Can a boss Gaslight you? ›

Gaslighting at work is when a fellow employee or boss (the gaslighter) manipulates you to the point that you question your own sanity, memory, or perceptions. The gaslighter can do this by denying past events, downplaying your emotions, or retelling events so that you take the blame.

What type of leaders create toxic culture? ›

Toxic leaders are often callous individuals who are quick to criticize, demean, bully and disempower members of the team when the organization or individual's performance is not meeting the “leader's” self-imposed standard.

What happens when employees don't feel valued? ›

Workers who don't feel appreciated disengage from their tasks, pitch in less often, work slower, and take more sick days. If the environment persists, workers may experience burnout and search for an employer that will give them the treatment they deserve.

How do you tell if your boss is sabotaging you? ›

20 Signs You Are Being Sabotaged at Work
  • You're Being Trained Improperly. ...
  • You Get Put on the Frontline With Partial Knowledge. ...
  • You Get Set Up. ...
  • You're Not Given Tools to Succeed. ...
  • Other People Take Credit for Your Work. ...
  • Your Coworkers “Snitch” on You. ...
  • Your Coworkers Outright Lie on You.
22 Mar 2022

Can a supervisor talk about you to other employees? ›

However, employers should also maintain strict confidentiality concerning employee status, pay, performance and medical related information to the extent possible. With few exceptions, employers shouldn't engage in discussions about other employees or disclosures concerning employees with their coworkers.

Should I let my boss yell at me? ›

Explain Yourself

Keep it matter-of-fact, and explain yourself. If your boss is demanding answers, give them. Be clear and succinct, and keep to the point without waffling on. If you can be direct in your communication chances are your shouting boss will calm down and meet you at your timbre.

How do you outsmart a narcissistic boss? ›

10 Ways to Deal With a Narcissistic Boss
  1. Remind Yourself of Your Value. ...
  2. Compliment Them Frequently. ...
  3. Keep a Paper Trail. ...
  4. Network for Yourself. ...
  5. Get Outside Support. ...
  6. Take Time for Reflection. ...
  7. Remember Who You're Dealing With. ...
  8. Diversify Your Work Experience or Role.
3 Mar 2022

How do you GREY rock your boss? ›

How to use the grey rock method
  1. Stay neutral and disengaged.
  2. Don't give them your attention.
  3. Keep interactions short and sweet.
  4. Don't give away personal information.
22 Mar 2022

What are the 5 types of professional boundaries? ›

These are a few of the major boundaries that may have implications for your practice and behaviour.
  • Client focus. ...
  • Self-disclosure. ...
  • Dual relationships. ...
  • Working within your competence. ...
  • Looking after self.
19 Jun 2017

What is work role boundaries in mental health? ›

Some examples of professional boundaries may include: Not discussing a client's private health information with others; Keeping work contact numbers separate to your personal contact numbers; Not performing additional favours for clients, outside of the scope of your role.

What are three 3 examples of when your professional boundaries must be maintained? ›

Re: Professional Boundaries

No slang or swear words. Not being too 'familiar' with individuals. - keeping people's privacy. -use 'professional' language eg.

What are 5 traits of a bad manager? ›

Here are some characteristics of a bad manager that will have employees running for the door—and what you can do instead.
  • You micromanage them. ...
  • You avoid talking about their career goals. ...
  • You don't give them feedback. ...
  • You steal their spotlight. ...
  • You ignore workplace conflict. ...
  • You leave them out of the conversation.

Why do bosses keep bad employees? ›

In many cases, the relationship that keeps someone from getting fired is friendship. The bad employee may not perform well on the job, but may be a golf or drinking buddy for your boss, or may simply be someone that senior management enjoys having around the office. 2.

Why do managers lose good employees? ›

Bad manager

Many good employees quit their jobs, in fact, because of their manager and not because of the job itself. Whether the manager has little training, is overwhelmed themselves or simply has a different personality that clashes with the employee, a manager can often make or break an employee's experience.

How do you protect yourself from a toxic boss? ›

How to deal with a toxic boss: 7 tips
  1. Make the decision to stay or go. The first step in dealing with a toxic boss is to make a realistic decision about whether to stay or go. ...
  2. Do the work: Don't be a target. ...
  3. Don't get drawn in. ...
  4. Don't gossip. ...
  5. Keep detailed records. ...
  6. Don't derail your career. ...
  7. Remember, it's not forever.
7 Sept 2020

How do you expose a manipulator? ›

6 ways to disarm a manipulator
  1. Postpone your answer. Don't give them an answer on the spot. ...
  2. Question their motivations. Manipulators often hide their real motivations because they don't like to take responsibility for their own actions and behaviors. ...
  3. Show disinterest. ...
  4. Impose boundaries. ...
  5. Keep your self-respect. ...
  6. Apply fogging.

How do you stand up to a rude boss? ›

Here are four things you can do to deal with a rude boss:
  1. Ask why. Perhaps the boss has had a bad day, but it's possible that he is really cross with you. ...
  2. Be positive. The temptation when someone is being rude is to respond in kind, but that is not advisable with your boss. ...
  3. Learn and adapt – to a point.

Why do I feel disrespected at work? ›

Feeling disrespected in the workplace is one of the hard realities of trying to manage relationships with colleagues and coworkers. Disrespect, which is simply a lack of respect demonstrated by rude or offensive behaviors, could stem from jealousy, insecurity, bigotry, or other sources.

What do you do when your boss disrespects you? ›

What to Do When Your Boss Disrespects You
  1. Ignore the Hostility. One way to learn how to stand up to a rude boss is by, well, sitting down. ...
  2. Try Not to Take It Personally. Chances are, your boss's hostility isn't about you. ...
  3. Be Strong. ...
  4. Communicate Your Concerns.

What are the traits of a toxic boss? ›

Toxic Boss Characteristics
  • Rude.
  • Discriminatory.
  • Dismissive.
  • Hateful.
  • Unkind.
  • Condescending.
  • Resentful.
  • Lack of emotional intelligence.
13 Sept 2022

How do you protect yourself from a manipulative boss? ›

You can't change other people, but you can develop skills to protect yourself from being manipulated by others.
  1. Know Your Basic, Human Rights. You have the right to be treated with respect. ...
  2. Keep Your Distance. ...
  3. Have a Backbone. ...
  4. Ask Probing Questions. ...
  5. Do Not Blame Yourself.
10 Jun 2014

How do you tell if your boss is belittling you? ›

It's Not In Your Head — 10 Signs Your Boss Is Setting You Up to...
  • They're hypercritical of your mistakes.. ...
  • They micromanage. ...
  • They stop assigning you work. ...
  • They avoid you entirely unless it's absolutely necessary. ...
  • They double down on their mistakes or make you double down on yours.
12 Feb 2022

What to do if your boss belittles you in front of others? ›

4 things to do if your boss bashes you in front of other employees
  1. Confront your boss about the problem. ...
  2. Focus on the details of the issue. ...
  3. Check in regularly with your boss to avoid further issues. ...
  4. Look for a new job.
4 Aug 2017

How do you tell your boss you feel disrespected? ›

“Do this by stating what you see: 'Excuse me, but I think my idea is worth considering. ' Or 'It seems like you're dismissing my idea — wondering why. ' Or 'Looks like you don't like my idea. ' All this brings your idea and the disrespect to the attention of others — just that.

What bosses should not say to employees? ›

Here are 10 phrases leaders should never use when speaking to employees.
  • “Do what I tell you to do. ...
  • “Don't waste my time; we've already tried that before.” ...
  • “I'm disappointed in you.” ...
  • “I've noticed that some of you are consistently arriving late for work. ...
  • “You don't need to understand why we're doing it this way.

What are toxic leadership behaviors? ›

Toxic leaders employ narcissistic behavior patterns, believing that they are always right and their team members are wrong. Driven by narcissism, they value their self-interests over the well-being of their team, using their toxic behavior to fuel their self-confidence and self-promotion. 2.

Can a boss Gaslight you? ›

Gaslighting at work is when a fellow employee or boss (the gaslighter) manipulates you to the point that you question your own sanity, memory, or perceptions. The gaslighter can do this by denying past events, downplaying your emotions, or retelling events so that you take the blame.

How do you outsmart a manipulative coworker? ›

Dealing with a manipulative coworker
  1. Define your experience. ...
  2. Assess your feelings and use your support system. ...
  3. Try to resolve the conflict together. ...
  4. Let a manager or superior know what's going on. ...
  5. Focus on positive workplace relationships. ...
  6. Lead by example. ...
  7. Practice mindfulness. ...
  8. Show sympathy and empathy.

How do I deal with an undermining boss? ›

Here are some tips to try.
  1. 1) Do some personal reflection.
  2. 2) Continue to support your boss.
  3. 3) Address it diplomatically.
  4. 4) Speak up about your achievements.
  5. 5) Stop Seeking validation.
  6. 6) Seek Support from Other Senior Leaders.

How do you tell if you are being pushed out of your job? ›

Telltale signs your company is trying to push you out:

They're not giving you new assignments. You're being passed over for promotion. You're not being called into important meetings. They're taking work off your plate.

How do you respond to a nitpicking boss? ›

How to Deal With a Nitpicking Boss
  1. Engage in Self-Reflection. Review your own performance. ...
  2. Initiate a Conversation. Talk to your boss about the situation to see if you can create a more positive working atmosphere. ...
  3. Observe the Workplace. ...
  4. Consider Involving Human Resources. ...
  5. Seek a Mentor.

What is it called when your boss talks down to you? ›

Dealing With a Condescending Boss. A common workplace issue that many employees have is dealing with a condescending boss. In most cases, “condescension” is simply the person's tone of voice and nothing else.

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2. No Excuses - Bad Bosses
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3. Signs You Work For A Toxic Boss and What To Do?
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4. 8 Signs You Have A Toxic Boss Or Workplace
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5. STOP Making Excuses & OWN your Actions Stop the BUT I CAN’T talk
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6. Signs You Should Quit Your Job Immediately - 5 Signs You Need to Leave Your Company Now!
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