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Stay woke: When a boss is toxic and what you can do

By Nancy Nzalambi | January 17th 2021 at 00:11:16 GMT +0300

Instead of cozying up to your toxic boss, waiting for the final straw, build your confidence such that they do not get to ruin your career.

Many of us see our bosses as our mentors/role models. We find ourselves borrowing a lot of our management styles from them. They inspire us to desire management and leadership. However, you may end up serving a toxic boss without realising it. It may seem like you just have to accept who they are but in real sense, they impact toxic tendencies that inform your future decisions. Make it your mission for 2021 that no one will manipulate you enough to derail your career growth. Here is what to watch out for.


Criticism is part and parcel of work life. We have all had to deal with criticism. One of the soft skills I myself desire to master is learn how to graciously accept criticism when I am wrong and filtering it out when it is unfounded. It is unfortunate that some managers utilize their authority to bulldoze and brainwash their subordinates to a point of feeling worthless. Name-calling, belittling your ambitions and ideas for improvement, body shaming et cetera may leave a long lasting negative impression on your personal development.

What to do: It is possible that your critic may just want to make you look defensive and evoke anger. Life coach Kelly Smith advices that remaining calm helps you to deal with unfair criticism. Investigate their motivation and what they mean to achieve by passing along such judgements. Avoid exaggeration—no matter how tempting it may be—and stick to the facts. Move on with a positive attitude and maintain your self-esteem regardless of how bruising the criticism was.


Does your boss intentionally make you miss work? Does he or she withhold feedback or overlook you when a promotion comes up? Having a boss who often fails to provide opportunities for advancement and blurs your visibility during crucial events is demoralizing. No matter how much energy you put into your job, your efforts seem futile with such leadership. Such abusive behaviour will drive you to leave your job even though giving up does not guarantee immunity from such managers in your next employment.

What to do: Instead of cozying up to your toxic boss, waiting for the final straw, build your confidence such that they do not get to ruin your career. Build strong connections with colleagues regardless of their positions in the company. Better yet, authentically connect with people who have the same or even higher authority than your boss. This may ultimately help you meet the expectations you have for your career since you will have the right people vouching for you.


Although it may feel great for some people, having your boss keeping close tabs on your work is downright uncomfortable. The boss should by their own right have authority but unhealthy control that some managers exert on their subordinates breeds fear and anxiety. Their dominance drives such bosses to take a “my way or the highway” perspective when resolving conflicts. In some instances, they may isolate you from your co-workers, making you dependent on them for approval. You may find yourself isolated from family and friends if you keep it up.

What to do: If you feel that you are being used as a pawn, or a mere pair of hands, set healthy boundaries that keep the micromanager away. It could be that your potential is seen as competition and it possibly threatens their capabilities. Keep your distance and create time for other activities outside normal work hours.


Abusive bosses can be emotionally manipulative enough to make their subordinates feel guilty or responsible for mistakes that they did not have control over in the first place. You will lose yourself if you persist with the intentions to please them. They may convince you to take up the blame for stuff you never committed to serve interests of their own.

What to do: Develop a backbone. Equip yourself with knowledge about your rights. You do not have to be complaint to a manipulative boss. Be part of the team but do not carry the cross on behalf of others when the problem is not about you.


If anger helps you feel in control, no wonder you can’t control your anger”, Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. Anger is problematic and destructive emotion, however, there is always something that triggers this reactive emotion. Naturally, anger may manifest physiological impacts such as elevating your heart rate, blood pressure, tension in muscles and blood sugar; all of which can be short-lived. Perhaps you and your team have had sleepless nights working on a project that gets heavily criticized or even cancelled by your notoriously insatiable boss. Or your co-worker keeps dumping their work load on your already overflowing desk. These are typically incidents that could make your blood boil and you may become prone to poor judgement.

What to do: If you observe over time that your boss overreacts even on trivial matters, often accompanied by outbursts and threats, you do not have to participate in reinforcing your boss’s behaviour. Always stand up for yourself. Keep things in perspective. If you detect a pattern of triggers, stay clear of them. Remember, it is not always about you, managers have shortcomings too.

Toxic Bosses Toxic Workplaces
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