IT Employment optimize

What can you do with a toxic boss?

Can you change the behavior of a toxic boss with some positive reinforcement?

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.

About

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.

12 comments
minstrelmike
minstrelmike

The example of demonstrating positive behaviors to your child is interesting but completely off-base. If you're talking about dealing with a boss, how about using an example where the child uses positive reinforcement to change the behavior of a toxic parent?

open_source_user_01
open_source_user_01

It is best to walk away from people like this, you cannot win in fact you will hang yourself by your own rope. They are out for themselves and nothing more/nothing less. You can stick it out, maybe things will change (they never do). You can get your resume together and start looking for another challenge, sometimes taking a risk elsewhere is the best bet. People like this strive on being #1 and they have their legion of BROWN NOSERS who will stick you in the ribs if they get the chance. I have been in this boat, it was terrible as everything I did was criticized and the brown nose legion was praised and life was great for them. Thankfully, I got another position within the company, later on this person was 'laid off' and look at where it left the brown nosers at vulnerable to the same fate. You can be the big dog, acting like you built your kingdom just be prepared to fall on your own sword it will happen eventually. Treating people like garbage and sucking up, taking praise for work you did not do will always come to one not so fun end.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

And exactly what is Dr A Daniels a doctor of? When I work at any place I'm employed to do the job I was employed to do and that related to IT not applying Phyiscatric Treatment to staff working there particularly those who tell me what to do. Not to mention that I'm not qualified to treat their personality disorders anyway to begin with and would probably make their Philological Problems worse rather than better or even slightly improved. [i]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:[/I] That started out Ok but then degenerated quite quickly, [i]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 behaviour and the power of positive reinforcement, employees can take meaningful steps to turn a bad boss into a good one, including:[/I] Surely that involves acting like a Shrink while being unqualified to do so and here at least would result in a long prison sentence. Only Qualified Doctors can act like Doctors and any who attempt to do what a Doctor does is a criminal. For instance Toni would you be happy if I had a guy do Neurosurgery on you because he wanted to experience what it felt like digging around inside someone???s brain? [b]I don't think so[/b] so why would anyone mess with someone???s brain to make a hoped for improvement in their Work Place? [i]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.[/I] This is only because after a long time the Problem Bos has brought this on themselves and any attempt to introduce Positive Reinforcement without Qualified Therapy is a recipe for disaster. Of course the Shrinks will make lots of money attempting to fix the situation and the person offering the Positive Reinforcement is likely to be the one who is taken to Court for causing the current situation which has worsened the lot of everyone concerned. [i]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.[/i] This may work but then again you are just as likely to be considered as a [b]Brown Noser[/b] or Yes Person and treated accordingly. [i]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.[/i] Brown Noser all the way with this one and we all know where that leads when the project whatever it is fails which it's bound to. Well I was told by So & So that things where going well and every time they saw me that couldn't tell me fast enough just how good things are. [i]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.[/i] Pardon my ingorance here but isn't that what all staff should be doing regardless? It's however one thing to try to help your Boss to be sucessful but it's entirelly another thing to make the wrong decission succeed in the long term. Sure Short Term the Money will look good but you can only sell all f the companies assets once and then costs will continue with no improvment to the bottom line. Really the best thing anyone can do in a Toxic Work Enviroment is [b]Walk Away[/b] Personally I would say [b]Sprint Away as fast as your legs can carry you.[/b] It's your reputation that gets the bad name attempting to live in a Toxic Work Enviroment. The opersisition know what their Opisition is like and will accept that anyone who works there for any length of time is either Desperate and hence can be employed for a lot less or are only going to tell you what you want to hear and are useless and should never be offered any position unless it's to keep the CEO Happy and away from the real work. ;) Col

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

for fattening up the boss for one of the following recipes: 1) Bake him in a pie 2) Make him a roast 3) Put him in a stew ... and failing that 4) Haggis Enjoy ;) I do feel that those things would be ineffective against a toxic boss, but they could work wonders in alleviating his suspicions while you work on putting him in a jam he can't lie his way out of :D Then again, there's also the beauty of using honeyed words to pique his paranoia, driving him off the wall trying to figure out what you're planning... have everyone in the office participate, and you'll have him barricaded in his office in no time... ahh, the peace and quiet! :D

RMSx32767
RMSx32767

the detail does not describe a toxic boss. Bad, yes; toxic, hardly. Even the best boss needs positive reinforcement. Toxic bosses poison the work environment in the same way chemicals poison the ground and water. The only way to 'clean up the mess' is to remove the poisons; covering it with dirt (i.e. being nice) only hides the problem; the poison remains. And you can be very confident the toxic boss was "dumped on you" with full knowledge of the dumper, who will protect his poison pill until it becomes a liability to him (or her) self. My suggestion? Leave.

beechC23
beechC23

Life is short. Do what I did when faced with a toxic boss: find another job. At the time, I was paid to be a technical services manager. Not a psychologist. Best decision I ever made, it also got me out of a sunset industry. Beech

donavonknight
donavonknight

Machiavellian bosses do not care how much you praise, help or compliment them. You are a tool that can be tossed when something better comes along or someone else they can use or maneuver better than you. They are in power because they know someone or have manipulated someone else to get there. 1. Read the "Prince" by Niccol?? Machiavelli so you know what your are dealing with. 2. Read the "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu to know how to deal with this person. 3. Cover yourself and the work you do with documentation, recorded conversations, etc(As applicable by law). 4. Remember you got where you are because you are smarter, a toxic boss got there because of what they are willing to do. Being smarter does not mean sticking your head up in a fight.

reisen55
reisen55

More of a total idiot than anything else, and drove management crazy too above him. He felt his IT support team needed something tangible to keep it pro - we were already that - so he ordered TShirts with logos which we all ignored. He knew zip about IT in general, wrote up anybody he wanted to and eventually went crazy. Vanished from work for about 5 weeks, came in one day, formatted his system - wiping out our employee evals - and never came back.

tommy
tommy

In my experience, which is thankfully with only one boss I've had who was truly grim, the best thing you can do is to make sure that you get everything in writing, and keep your own house in impeccable order. When the boss tries to drop you in the mire then you'll have the evidence to back up your position. It's also really entertaining in meetings. When bad-boss starts floundering, you can pick him up. At least he can walk away from the meeting not looking like a complete moron, and the more they get used to you having the answers, the more they'll appreciate the fact and defer to you anyway. That's not something that will be lost on his peers either. If the bosses peers are switched on they'll twig what's going on pretty quickly. It's not positive reinforcement as such, but it works. After a few months the crap-on-you factor diminished considerably. I would certainly try to use positive reinforcement on peers and subordinates, but it's not something I would even consider for a boss. What does work is showing him/her that you are organised, you are on the ball, and you won't put up with their bullshit. I've got enough politics in the office with subordinates, who are my responsibility to nurture. A bad boss can take the hint and pull their own socks up.

gjm123
gjm123

A boss I have dealt with takes any positive reinforcement, and uses it to ingratiate himself with his peers and superiors. There's no reflected compliment or acknowledgement.

richard.artes
richard.artes

sounds like a typical narcissist. there's no way around that one...