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7 Types of Toxic Bosses

Tips for understanding and dealing with a boss who keeps you down.

In a riff on the word “frenemy,” the word “bossemy” was developed to describe this complicated form of workplace relationship in which the person who greatly influences your success seems to have sabotage on the brain. Here are 7 types of bossemies that can make work more stressful than it needs to be.

Bossemy #1: Office Royalty

Nothing is too good and nothing is good enough for this boss. “Office royalty” narcissistically and genuinely believe that they deserve deferential treatment and blind adoration from others, whether they are leading the company or just stepping onto the corporate ladder. If you report directly to office royalty, objectively and accurately evaluate this person’s “global and local influence” on your own career success. Remember, though, that no one should be expected to ‘bow and scrape’ to anyone beyond the normal limits of respectful, professional behavior. Doing your job well is encouraged, but being expected to provide strawberries and cream is a little over the top.

Bossemy #2: The Diva

This boss is willing to work a team full speed non-stop, but quickly step up to bask in the praise that the team, itself, rightfully deserved. Divas often demand obsequious obedience from staff who may respond in a wide variety of ways. Some may bask in the limelight if favored with a smile; others may ask, “How high?” if asked to jump; others may yawn, scratch their heads, and wonder what all the fuss is about; and still other may feel resentment at the arrogant audacity of a diva. When the diva is truly top dog, it can be especially frustrating if there is no choice but to meet the diva’s needs or satisfy her whims to keep from rocking the boat too strongly. Patience at work, patient friends with whom you can kvetch, and the ability to keep a firm work/life balance are all helpful in dealing with the work place divas you encounter.

Bossemy #3: The Stealth Bomber

Stealth bombers are dangerous bosses as they can spot weaknesses, plan attacks, and exact retribution and revenge for even imagined slights. If you report to this type of boss, keep your eyes on the prize and your work ethic clear. If your boss tries to set up in-fighting within a team, don’t allow yourself to be drawn into the ring. Show your colleagues respect, give your best on the job, and find ways to build up team morale and group cohesion outside of the workplace, if possible. When a team is united, it is a lot more difficult for stealth bombers to isolate one member to target for a strike. If you are a target of a stealth bombing boss, make sure you keep solid documentation of any related incidents as well as your solid performance.

Bossemy #4: The Whiner

Working alongside a whiner is wearing on the nerves, working for a whiner is even worse. If your supervisor is making you miserable with his own misery, you may need to learn how to practice "smiling meditation" or "eyes-open/ears-closed meditation" when he is on a roll of lamentations. As an employee, knowing the triggers and doing what you can, if anything, to protect your boss from them is helpful. No matter how crazy a boss can make you, remember that your boss is still your boss. Doing what you can to contribute to operational success makes everyone look good.

Bossemy #5: The Pleaser

You are much more likely to work beside than for a pleaser, as pleasers are unlikely to move too far up the chain of command. Pleasers seldom send out signals of having management skills, as they seem to spend their time trying to please the managers to whom they report. If you report to a pleaser, you may find yourself working long hours towards impossibly optimistic deadlines as your boss tries to please upper level management by agreeing to unrealistic demands. Maybe you can initiate a “heart-to-heart” with the boss sharing your concerns about failing to deliver on impractical promises. Pleasers typically like to please both their own bosses as well as their staff members, so your feedback may actually be taken to heart.

Bossemy #6: The Scandalmonger

Most everyone likes to be “in the know” on the job. Unfortunately, your “inside connection” may be more of a scandalmonger than a trustworthy confidante. If your boss is your “go-to-guy,” this can present a double-edged sword. If your boss shares inside information about impending organizational changes, it can be professionally helpful. Knowing what is coming down the pike can help you plan for career moves that propel you closer to your overarching professional goals. However, some bosses pump employees for updates on what is happening at their level or, perhaps even more risky for employees, in their lives. You may feel torn between being candid or cautious with your boss. Choose the path that protects your own long-term investments over those of others or of the organization. Remember that your boss may have the latest newsflash about the company, but may be spilling the scoop on someone’s secrets that were shared in confidence. If you have shared your own personal updates, the news the boss is sharing with others may very well be your own.

Bossemy #7: The Outright Bully

In the workplace, bullying may be practiced differently depending on the bully’s gender. Women frequently use much more “defensible” or “subliminal” methods of bullying colleagues. They know how to be mean in such a way that men might not even recognize a bully-shot was fired. Facial expressions, glares, passive aggressive actions, and back-handed compliments are examples of how women will bully their co-workers. Men may use office pranks, verbal harassment, and other more overt behaviors. Dealing with workplace bullies can be an exhausting job and can lead to physical as well as emotional stress. Unfortunately, the power hierarchy may facilitate the bullying of employees by supervisors who are prone to this behavior. Women are at an especial disadvantage, as few women are trained to confront those who harm them and this makes them easy targets for their tormentors. If you feel you are being bullied, immediately begin documenting what is happening between you and the bully. Because many bullies have seldom been confronted about their behavior – from childhood into adulthood – calling them on the behavior may lead to a resolution. Left unchecked, bullies typically don’t stop on their own – they may move from target to target, but the bullying tends to continue. If you feel that sexual harassment is even a small part of the bullying from the onset, immediately file a complaint with your human resources department.

The Five O’Clock Whistle

We typically spend more waking hours with the people with whom we work than with our families, loved ones, or friends. When you are on the job, remember that it is just a job. No job should be the measure of your worth and no job should come before your own well-being. Because you cannot change anyone’s behavior but your own, focus on doing what you can to build up your own self-esteem, professionalism, and commitment to success. This is a lot more healthy than dreaming of ways to retaliate against a boss.

In summary, when dealing with a toxic boss, be sure to thoroughly document what is happening. Next, consider a face-to-face meeting with your boss to discuss your concerns -- keep your cool and stay objective, if a meeting occurs. If this doesn't work out, contact your HR department to seek resolution. And if the situation is beyond repair, your commitment to your own professional growth will benefit your search for a new job, if needed.

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