Tech & Work

Can a toxic boss be managed?

If you have a toxic boss, the last thing you want to do is spend your valuable time trying to bring out the best in him or her. But that's just what you might have to do.

If you have a toxic boss, the last thing you want to do is spend your valuable time trying to bring out the best in him or her. But that's just what Dr. Aubrey Daniels, author of OOPS! 13 Management Practices That Waste Time & Money and Bringing Out the Best in People, suggests.

Let me take a time out here and say a bit about my own experience with this technique. When my son was little, my husband and I had a whale of a time with his behavioral problems. (Think Dennis the Menace but without the impulse control.) One of the techniques we used with him was to concentrate on positive reinforcement. Of course, sometimes we had to wait a looonnggg time for something positive to happen that we could reinforce. And it took a lot of patience to play down some of the bad things in order to make the good things he did stand out in his mind.

Yes, he parked his plastic cars in the oven once — something I didn't find out about until a rather lengthy preheat one day — but he also freely donated some of his toys to a women and children's shelter. Ultimately, our parenting technique helped my son see the difference between good behavior and bad behavior. Can this work on an adult boss?

According to Daniels, employees don't have to put up with abuse from a toxic boss or quit their jobs. By understanding the science of human behavior and the power of positive reinforcement, employees can take meaningful steps to turn a bad boss into a good one, including:

  1. Understand the power of positive reinforcement: If you think you get too little recognition or positive reinforcement for what you do at work, you can be assured that your boss gets evens less.
  2. Look for some improvement on the part of the boss: Don't look for large changes, but for any small behavior that is an improvement over the usual. Tell him or her that you appreciate how they handled something at work or a decision that they made.
  3. Say "Thank You" to your boss: Thanking your boss for something that was helpful to you in some way is always appreciated. Bosses always hear what people don't like; it's rare that they hear about things they do that people actually like.
  4. Tell your boss what's going on. Keep the boss informed about things that ARE going well. Give them a reason to celebrate what is working.
  5. Help your boss be successful. Respond positively to decisions set forth by your boss and help others on your team support your boss's initiatives. Any time you help your boss be successful, his or her behavior will likely improve.


Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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