Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is the cure for the Toxic Boss. But of course, it’s not quite that easy. S/he’s a boss, after all! Sadly, this cure does not come in the form of pill, either.
Toxic bosses are a disease in the workplace. Like most diseases toxicity has always been there, and more recently we’ve begun to understand it’s cost; employee turnover. If employees are leaving toxic bosses, it’s not a stretch to imagine a toxic employee can drive away customers as well—though perhaps more indirectly since a toxic boss (and their corporate culture) will often excuse their bad behavior on their ability to keep customers happy (e.g., Steve Jobs.)
While most of us feel compelled to focus on how to get rid of the disease, I believe that it’s at least as important to find some EQ antibodies and give them a boost. Emotional Intelligence can be exactly that kind of inoculation against toxic people. Why? Because toxic bosses feed on those with low EQ, and a corporate culture that doesn’t value EQ is a natural haven for toxic bosses to thrive.
3 Strategies for Handling the Toxic Boss
Beware that you don’t fall into the emotionally unintelligent habit of thinking you’ve only succeeded if you “fix” the toxic boss.
In dealing with toxic people, success means anything from minimizing their negative impact to helping them see their opportunity for personal growth. In the latter case, they might be able to accept your support (or others) to begin to “fix” themselves—maybe. Any kind of toxic-person success starts when you become personally comfortable dealing with the toxicity in a way that demonstrates to the rest of the culture that toxicity doesn’t have to be coddled. This is how you use a toxic boss to your own advantage and the advantage of all the other employees around you.
Whether it’s your boss, or someone in your organization who you interface with—whether it’s someone above you or below you—try these strategies with them.
- Learn not to get triggered: This isn’t the same as hiding your ruffled feathers. People smell it when you’re faking. Practice detriggering yourself so that you genuinely don’t get upset when the toxic person tries to punch your buttons. When you’re genuinely detriggered and dealing with a toxic person, others can see—sometimes for the first time—what successfully navigating a toxic personal relationship can look like. This can be empowering to them, because then they can aspire to it themselves. You might have to practice detriggering for a while until it comes naturally, but it can be done.
- Support those taking the brunt of the toxicity: For those employees who are in the line of fire, toxicity begins to feel normal after a while. Remind them, by dealing with them compassionately, that it’s not normal. Encourage them to see dealing with the toxic boss as an opportunity for them to grow emotionally (e.g., to learn to detrigger). Give them opportunities to vent, but help them turn that energy into a desire to find their EQ equilibrium to the extent they can working with such toxicity.
- Have Compassion for the Toxic Boss: As counter-intuitive as it can feel when dealing with toxic people, if you’re operating from a place of emotional intelligence, you can see the toxic person as wounded and undermining their own success. You can see the cost of their toxicity to them personally. And if you can see that, you just might be the one to help them see it eventually. Don’t take on the burden of trying to fix them (after all only they can really do that for themselves anyway), but carry this perspective in your heart and look for the opportunity that may come for you to share this perspective with them in a moment where they might be able to see it for themselves.
Should You Quit A Toxic Boss?
If you’re one of the people taking the brunt of toxicity, you may ask yourself every day why you shouldn’t quit. It’s a reasonable question. Toxic bosses are a good reason to quit a job, but I will give you one piece of advice: do your best to learn to deal with a toxic boss so you are less vulnerable to other toxic people in the future.
Quite often when you polish up your emotional intelligence skills, toxic bosses find you less interesting. You’re less attractive to them as a target if they have bully tendencies so they will take out more of their toxicity on other people. So use your current toxic boss to help you develop the skills that make you less interesting to all kinds of toxic personalities.
There are plenty of other strategies you can use to deal with toxic bosses in your workplace, but I guarantee that if you engage in the approaches above, all the other ones will reveal themselves to you over time and in a situationally appropriate way.
INVITATION: Dealing with a Toxic Boss and thinking of jumping ship to start your own business? Check in with coach Andria Corso in our subscriber discussion forum, “Ready to Jump the (Toxic) Ship?” Learn from others’ experience and add your own!
Everyone struggles with emotional triggers that make us lash out or draw back in ways that hurt our relationships and personal brand. Learn more about how InPower Coaching can help you release these emotion triggers so you can manage all your relationships from a place of emotional calm and clarity.