Ask The Experts


Career Q&A: How to handle toxic bosses

Coach Loke dishes out advice regarding bosses who make your life a living hell.

“One stroke of my pen, there goes your bonus!”

How to handle toxic bosses who threaten

Dear Coach Loke, I am working with a boss who is an office bully. He would threaten us with “One stroke of my pen, there goes your bonus” to force us to do things his way. He would say, “Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but your opinion is wrong.” There’s always a sense of fear in the department and I think this is neither healthy nor productive. He was promoted through rank and file and occasionally he would run down new employees, especially those who are MBA holders, to make them feel inferior. He holds a senior vice-president position and is quite influential in the organisation. Could you provide some advice on how to handle this?

Concerned Staff

Dear Concerned Staff,

I sense your anger and frustration and I empathise with you. People who hurt others are usually very hurt themselves. If a person wants to make others feel inferior, that is because he/she feels inferior. In NLP*, we call this “perception is projection.” There are no hard and fast rules to handle the type of boss you’ve described. But here are some practical ideas you can consider:

a) Check his intentions

There is a Chinese proverb which states “A strict guru produces quality students.” Check the intentions of your boss. Read between the lines of his actions. If you think your boss is being toxic because he wants to make you a better person - go to (b). If you think your boss is being toxic because he IS toxic, go to (c).

b) Manage your boss

“Don’t fight forces, use it.” If you think your boss is grooming you, then you’ll need the skills of “managing bosses.” Basically, an effective way to manage your boss is to anticipate what he wants, and deliver it. Talk to people who have been with this boss for some time and learn some “survival tactics” from them. Be flexible and adaptable in your approach. In the words of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, “You must be like water; when you pour water into a cup, it becomes a cup; when you pour water into a teapot, it becomes a teapot … running water never grows stale. Be like water, my friend.”

c) Go higher

“A problem cannot be solved by using the same level of thinking that first created it.” - Albert Einstein A toxic boss is like cancer which will spread and kill all the good cells if not remedied. Explore the possibility of bringing the issue to a higher level. Can you talk to your boss’ boss? Or, can you bring this up to your HR department? Is there a department that looks after the welfare of the employees that you can go to? If this option is not available or it has been done but no action taken - go to (d).

d) Pack your bags

Unless you prefer to be your boss’ punching bag, the last option is to leave. A work relationship is just like any other relationship - it must be built on a win-win principle. Your boss is obviously playing a win-lose game. Ultimately, this will lead to a lose-lose (die together). This will affect, first your emotions, then your health. You deserve better. Enough said.

Coach Loke KW

VP of MABIC (University of Malaysian Association of Brand & Image Consultants), corporate trainer, certified hypnotherapy instructor, author, cartoonist

Any burning questions? Write in to: AskTheExpert@mabic.org

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