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How to Handle Toxic Bosses

Most of us have faced an abusive supervisor at some point in our professional lives, such as Meryl Streep's character in "The Devil Wears Prada."

But if you have one, before you tell him or her to, "Take this job and shove it," heed the advice of career coach Nicole Williams, author of "Girl on Top."

She told CBS News Correspondent Anthony Mason on "The Early Show on Saturday Morning" it's s big problem that's only getting bigger, due to the stress the economy is bringing to the workplace.

There's a difference between a tough boss and a toxic boss, Williams points out. A tough boss expects you to work hard. A toxic boss expects you to work hard and belittles you while doing it. These days, bosses are under ever-increasing pressure and have more and more people to manage -- both of which can make a good boss into a bad one pretty quickly.

Toxic bosses can cause low office morale, lots of turnover, and infighting, among other common problems, Williams observes. The boss often sets the office culture, and it's a domino effect. If the boss treats his or her subordinates badly, that toxic behavior trickles down.

Older bosses, Williams notes, are older versions of the schoolyard bully -- and the same strategy works with them. A bully is insecure and seeking the weakest link. You need to stand up for yourself and assert the fact that you're not willing to play. "I promise your boss will find an easier target," Williams says.

Men and women are equally likely to be toxic bosses, but their techniques differ, Williams adds. Women are more passive-aggressive, resorting to gossip and undermining, while men tend to be more overtly and aggressively toxic by using in-your-face bullying and name-calling tactics.

How do you know when to just grin and bear it or to actually take action?

Once it becomes personal and your boss' behavior negatively affects the way you feel about yourself and your performance, you need to go -- confidence is at the heart of your career ability and as soon as that starts to erode, you have to have standards for yourself and walk away, even in an economy like this.

But is this really a good time to be going up against the boss?

If it's a choice between your sanity and pleasing your boss, always choose your sanity. But admittedly, in this economy, you're going to have to be a little more accommodating than you otherwise would be.


The Boundary-Crosser

This is the boss who shares way too much about her life and expects you to show up at her house for dinner once a week. Or he makes a crude joke that most people would find offensive, or implies that sexual favors could be performed in turn for a promotion. He's also known as the office creep.

What's the best way to deal with this type of boss?

This is a tough one, because she's so emotionally attached to you. You have to wean her off by slowly not being available one week and then the week after, until she's found a replacement (with any luck, out of the office). If she doesn't get the hint, have a heart-to-heart about boundaries you need to set in order to maintain your "professional relationship."

The Controller

This is the boss who micro-manages you: looks at the clock when you come in and leave and actually dictates your e-mails for you. Also known as a gatekeeper/babysitter. An over-your-shoulder boss won't allow you to make decisions and doesn't share information or resources.

How should you cope with a Controller?

Your best bet with this boss is to build some trust in the hope he'll back off. Over-perform, and she'll realize you don't need to a babysitter. Keep her copied on -emails, provide daily updates, and make him feel like he's always in control of the situation (even if it's actually you who's in charge!).

The Screamer

This is the boss who tells you his five-year-old could do a better job than you. He can also be overly critical, prone to swearing, name-calling and public humiliation. This is the boss who assumes that, the louder she says what she wants, the more likely it is to get done. It's often not even about the tone or volume with this boss -- it can also be the words she uses -- generally incorporating swearing and name-calling. This is also the boss who reprimands at full-volume in order to teach everyone a lesson, which is both embarrassing and degrading.

How do you go up against a screamer?

This is a classic bullying move and honestly, you either have to call him out, decide not to take it personally (although, if he's only directing it toward you, chances are it's personal), or move on. Like his five-year-old, he could benefit from some positive reinforcement, so make sure to point out the instances where he's communicated effectively, and demonstrate how it helped things move along smoothly. Whatever you do, don't stoop to his level.

The Jekyll & Hyde

This is the boss who doesn't actually confront you if you've disappointed or under-performed and instead punishes you with the silent treatment and excludes you from important meetings. This boss also has a tendency to steal ideas and spread rumors when it suits her. They tend to be two-faced, passive-aggressive, and are also known to steals ideas.

What's your advice here?

This boss is afraid of confrontation, so the best way to handle her is to, you guessed it -- confront her. Nicely, of course. Start with, "Is there something I could have done differently?" Then watch her squirm. To prevent it from happening again, ask for a monthly or quarterly evaluation meeting with her so you're both clear about expectations.

If you decide you can't work with a particular boss anymore -- how do you leave gracefully, so you don't burn a bridge?

The last thing you want to happen is for your talent, reputation and efforts to be diminished because of a toxic boss who's presenting his or her problem as your problem. I subscribe to the, "Don't expect to change him" mentality in dating and a career -- and playing tit-for-tat and sinking down to his level of yelling, name-calling, pointing fingers, telling him everything he does is wrong, isn't going to work in your favor. Give your notice, clear out your desk, delegate and/or wrap up your assignments and walk away with your integrity and dignity intact.

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