Monday, March 20, 2017

Ask a Career Coach: How to Assertively Deal with a Toxic ‘Manager’

With this post, we introduce a new contributor, Jessica DeCotis, RIT Alumna and founder of JDec Marketing and Career Coaching. Her Ask A Coach series provides career search and management advice.

The Question: Dear Jess, I have a boss who is a real life gaslighter. He consistently makes me feel like I’m crazy. He tells me to do something one day, and when I do exactly as he’s asked, he screams at me that he would “never ask me to do such a thing!” I am at a loss. This happens multiple times a week. I am afraid of him, and can’t stand the thought of going to work everyday. I never had a problem with my managers in the past. What can I do? I’m new here and I don’t want to give up easily.

The Answer: I’m so sorry you are going through t­­­his. It’s true what they say, misery loves company. I firmly believe that these “managers” are unhappy, whether they admit it to themselves or not. The fact of the matter is that you need to take steps to protect yourself because you’re working with a toxic person who somehow gained access to a role with subordinates.

1. Recognize Your Worth by Becoming Self-Aware
You were hired for your position because you possessed a skillset and the right kind of potential for growth. Do not allow anyone to minimize that. Everyone has room for growth, but being told you’re bad at your job, or you’re not doing it the right way, when you are clearly following direction, is wrong. Own your strengths, your skills, and your potential. But also, own your weaknesses (the real ones, not the ones made up by someone with a complex). View your limitations as opportunities for growth, because that’s exactly what they are. With this 360 view of your abilities you will be able to stand up for yourself because you know your worth. If you can clearly see that despite your best efforts you are being treated unfairly and disrespected, do not allow it.

2. Remain Calm in the Midst of Manager Meltdowns
Do not return fire with fire. If your manager is being aggressive, you will need to keep your cool. If you are aggressive back, you could end up in trouble with HR. Fair, or not, that’s how this usually goes. A tyrant tends to have very thin skin and they score lower on the proverbial emotional intelligence scale. The slightest infraction could very well send them on the defense. Do your best to remain levelheaded and don’t stoop to this person’s level. If you are being yelled at, tune into your self-awareness and assess the situation for an assertive, but firm way out. You can say something along the lines of “I understand there is a matter to be discussed, but I do not appreciate being yelled at.” If the negative behavior continues, you have every right to leave the room. You can also calmly mention, “I will be happy to continue this conversation when you have calmed down.” It is then at your discretion whether to report this poor behavior to HR or not.

3. Document, Document, Document
I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. However, I find it very important to protect oneself in a hostile work environment. After any meeting with your boss, send him/her an email that records everything you discussed. You should include action items, due dates, and what you have already achieved. If your boss raised his or her voice at you in any meeting, and you’d like it documented, you can include a line that says something like, “I understand you are frustrated, but as we discussed, in the future please know that raising your voice at me is not a productive use of our time.”
Documenting is also important to ensure that if your boss is in fact gaslighting you, you will have recourse. You can refer back to your email record of the conversation; what he stated he wanted and what you agreed to take action on. Be vigilant. If there is an update to any discussion, even just in passing, make sure you document it.
If you end up finding another job, or quit because you feel bullied or abused, you can present your documented complaints to HR (you don't have to wait until you quit, this is a personal choice). If you work at a larger company, this should technically go in your manager’s file. If there is work place abuse going on, I recommend enlisting the services of an employment lawyer, who may be able to help you get unemployment if you feel you were bullied into quitting. Again, I’m not a lawyer, but I have heard of cases like this.

4. Look For a New Position
It doesn’t matter if you’ve only been at a job for a short time. You should never allow someone to mistreat you. Not every scenario has grounds for quitting, but if you are being gaslighted, bullied and/or abused at work, you must strongly consider leaving.
Your health should be considered when weighing options about leaving a job. Stress can have some pretty dire consequences. Look at this situation as a bridge to a new opportunity and gained emotional intelligence. It’s very hard to advance under a tyrant, and ultimately you could be doing yourself a disservice if you stay. If you have to put this position on your resumé, and you are asked why you’re leaving, you can simply put it back on yourself and say something along the lines of, “I misjudged the position and gained more self-awareness. This current position has shown me that I prefer to work in an environment that…” Then you can elaborate on positive aspects of environments you’d like to work in, because you have a desire to succeed. Don’t forget to look for the signs of a great potential manager while you’re interviewing. You don’t want to end up in the same situation again.

To summarize, please don’t allow yourself to be mistreated or intimidated. There are some not-so-great ‘managers’ out there, but just because their management and people skills are incredibly lacking, doesn’t mean that you should suffer. No matter what scenario you find yourself in, you must always do what’s best for you, your health, and your career. This will put you on a path to finding a manager who is a real leader and deserves to work with you.

If you would like a personalized session to enhance your resumé, or learn new skills to advance your profession, JDec Marketing and Career Coaching can help you. No matter your current job situation, there is an affordable option for you. For more information, please visit

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