How to deal with a toxic boss

By Helen Unwin,
updated on Sep 11, 2020

How to deal with a toxic boss

If the culture at work is causing you anxiety, and making you doubt your abilities, the good news is that things can change. Here we share how to regain your confidence

If you’re struggling with self-confidence at work, thinking there is something wrong with you, please stop. Take a step back, and look at things objectively. While there are times when we might not be performing quite to our best, if it feels like the culture is crushing your spirit, and you get that dread in the pit of your stomach each morning, there could be something else at play.

Toxic bosses create a culture of fear, mistrust, and presenteeism – where hierarchy determines the value of your input, and everyone is judged on their ability to imitate the ‘leader’. Some people thrive in this environment, but if you don’t, it can make your life hell, as you doubt your self-worth, and your overall abilities.

Creating a foundation of self-knowledge and acceptance is the first step we need to take back control. So, if you’re struggling under a toxic boss or culture, read on to find ways to rediscover yourself, take back your power, and feel happier at work.

What’s important to you?

Without clarifying what you stand for, or what’s important to you, you can find yourself living someone else’s ideal life. In his 2009 TED talk, Simon Sinek asks: “Why do you get out of bed in the morning?” Having a purpose, cause, or set of beliefs, can motivate us through the hardest days at work. Have you ever considered what your ‘why’ is?

Illustration of person hiding under desk at work

Illustration | Rosan Magar

Living from your values is another way to shift your focus on to what’s important. To discover yours, find a “core values list” on Google. Narrow down your options to a top five that resonate most, and describe what each one means to you. Next, explain what the opposite looks like. Finally, rank yourself against this value from one to 10, on how close you feel you’re living to it today. When you’re not able to live out your values, it can make you feel in conflict or out of control, so take time to understand how you could move closer to them.

Remember who you are and what you’re good at

I remember a time where my confidence at work hit rock bottom. It seemed like there was only one way of doing things, and it felt wrong, so I completely doubted my abilities and self-worth. Thankfully a training course opened my eyes to different work personas and personality profiles – each completely acceptable in their own right.

The Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTi) is a personality-profiling test that assigns a four-letter acronym to 16 personality types. Each type has its own unique combination of personality aspects, and reveals typical behaviour and natural tendencies in life, work, and relationships. You can find free versions online – I like to use 16personalities.com, as it gives plenty of detail for each personality type.

More and more companies are starting to realise that focusing on weaknesses is bad for business, and now focus on discovering and maximising strengths. Strengths are ways of thinking or working that you find easy – and because they come naturally, we often think everyone has them. I find the best tool for discovering your strengths is the Gallup Strengths finder, which highlights your top strengths out of a list of 34. Although it’s not free, you could buy the book, StrengthsFinder 2.0, to get a code for one use of the online test, to identify your five top strengths.

Everyone has unique strengths and talents, which can be sidelined when we’re trying to fit in

See the world from their shoes

After working through your ‘why’, core values, personality type, and strengths, you will be able to see how everyone is wired differently, including your boss. One way of improving fraught relationships, is by trying to see the world from their perspective using a tool called perceptual positioning. You place two chairs next to each other, sitting on the first to tell your boss everything you want to say. Then, change chairs and respond as them. This method helps you to understand they are human, and can also reveal where they’re coming from.

Using your knowledge and stepping into action

Having a new sense of self-knowledge can have a positive impact on your self-acceptance, but using it is where the real benefits happen. How will you use this information at work, to improve the relationship you have with yourself, and your boss or colleagues? What boundaries do you need to put in place? How can you change your interactions with your boss so they feel more authentic and balanced? How can you use your unique strengths to maximum effect?

I really believe everyone has unique strengths and talents, which can be sidelined when we’re trying to fit in. Please don’t suffer in silence, or feel you’re not good enough, for one more minute. Take back control by remembering who you are, what you want in your life, and then take action to make it happen.

A life coach can help you build confidence at work. Find our more at lifecoach-directory.org.uk

By Helen Unwin

Helen Unwin is a coach devoted to helping others design and create their lives on their own terms, by rediscovering who they are – their key strengths, values, and motivations.

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