It’s normal to feel some tension when it comes to your manager. After all, they are in a position of authority. As humans, we tend to naturally resist authority or at least feel a mild dislike for it.

But how do you know when your manager has crossed the line between normal and toxic? And what do you do about a toxic manager?


Normal versus Toxic Behaviour

To get started, here are a few examples of normal versus toxic behaviour:


NORMAL: Your manager sits down with you to discuss your performance. They offer positive feedback for the things you’re doing well and highlights opportunities for improvement.

TOXIC: Your manager criticises your work without offering any guidance on how to move forward.


NORMAL: Your manager walks into the room and you and your co-workers immediately speak and behave more formally.

TOXIC: Your manager walks into your room and you feel a sense of dread, hiding behind your work and hoping to remain invisible.


NORMAL: Your manager sees you are struggling in your role. They offer you career development and the opportunity to move to a role that fits with your strengths.

TOXIC: Your manager dismisses you with no prior feedback or warnings.


Other signs of toxicity are racism, sexism, manipulation, public belittling or bullying. But also a manager who is never around or a manager who is always over your shoulder, etc.


How to Deal with the Situation

Managers are just people. Like people, many of them haven’t developed good interpersonal skills. Spotting a toxic manager can be difficult. But once you do, here are a few ways you can deal with the situation:


  1. Work with HR to help create organisational policies that limit or curtail toxic behaviours. It’s impossible to regulate people’s motives, emotions and thoughts with policy. But it is possible to regulate behaviours. Things like yelling, physical aggression or other unacceptable acts can be delineated in policy. If a manager or other employee violates policy, there is a way to document that violation.


  1. Be mindful of your feelings during high-conflict situations. Don’t take the actions of others personally. Remember that their behaviour is about them, not you. Resist the urge to feel victimised and maintain a strong sense of self and values. This might mean emotionally distancing yourself from work and focusing on other areas of your life.


  1. Change your relationship. If you’re dealing with a toxic boss, there’s very little chance that open dialogue and feedback are going to be received well. It’s best to keep your relationship formal. Make polite, direct requests when you need resources to do your job. Work professionally and calmly.


  1. Keep your eyes open for other opportunities either within your organisation or outside of it. If your manager’s behaviour improves, that’s great. But you can’t make plans based on “if”. And it’s always wise to have an exit strategy in your pocket.


  1. Know when to quit. Quitting isn’t always easy, nor is it always an option in the moment. Take care of yourself, get plenty of rest, eat healthy. Build yourself up to the point that you’re able to walk away. Create your exit strategy and try to avoid burning bridges, because you can end up hurting your prospects if you do.

The main goal when dealing with any sort of toxic relationship is to get to the point where you don’t have to deal with it anymore. That happens either through the other person changing or you figuring out how to leave.

While you’re in the moment, the best thing you can do is take care of yourself and make plans. Don’t do anything brash that could sabotage your future. Focus on results, not revenge. Find support among your fellow employees. And don’t give up hope for a better situation for yourself.

Have you updated your policies on bullying and harassment? Is your leadership team trained to identify and act on bullying and harassment cases? Do it now and avoid risking expensive legal claims and damages on your company’s reputation. Arrange a call now and we look forward to discussing your needs.