Steps for Coping With A Toxic Attorney-Boss

Bad bosses come in all shapes and forms. Some bosses yell while others steal credit. Some whine and others are just plain quirky. And then you have those who are downright incompetent, and you wonder how in the world they ever got to where they are. So how do you deal with an ineffective boss? Quitting your job is an option, but probably not a realistic option for most of us. Don't despair. There are ways to overcome the challenges presented by a lousy employer. Leadership experts call it "managing up". It's a way of getting around your boss's shortcomings so that you can excel at your job.

The bad, bullying or difficult boss who manages by exploding - uses fear as their motivating weapon. The truth is they are operating from fear-expressing their feelings instead of communicating. I don't advocate working with emotionally explosive bosses, but if you find yourself in this position there are few strategies you can implement until you find an alternative career opportunity.

Dealing with an explosive boss is similar to walking a mine field - there's no telling when your next step will be the wrong one. In extreme cases, any interaction might set off his or her fuse. Keeping this in mind, try to determine what ignites explosive reactions most frequently. Is it lateness, errors, bad news, missed deadlines or lost business that generates a response fueled by feelings? Do not avoid these situations, but prepare for them. Understand that fear is the underlying emotion and control what you can-your response.

Take a moment to focus on your own feelings before engaging with your boss. Are you experiencing fear before every encounter? Is your fear realistic? In other words, if you fear losing your job is that really true? Are you concerned about the yelling escalating into violence? Are you afraid you won't be able to control your own response? Use this moment to realize that these scenarios are unlikely and that the yelling is simply "acting out" much like a toddler who can not yet express themselves. Breathe. Realize you have control over your response.

Do not become a partner in the outburst. Just as an upset client wants to be heard, allow the venting to occur. Offer alternatives. Be pleasant, firm and steady in your response.

If you have found yourself in a situation with a toxic boss, here are 7 tips to deal with the situation:

1. Be brave -- many people are afraid to confront a toxic boss and this is probably the best thing you can do. However, it takes courage to confront someone who has power. The first thing to do is to ask for a meeting with the boss when you know they will be in the office and free of interruptions.

2. Write down issues that you have seen - think about the issues that are upsetting and make a list. Take the list to your boss in a diplomatic way. That is, don't accuse them of being any certain way, but tell them what you have seen and how it seems to effect you and the team.

3. Be worthy of respect and ask for it - when you are talking with your boss, let them know you are worthy of their respect and request that they give you the respect you deserve. Tell them the type of behavior you expect from others.

4. Document problems - besides your list in #2, keep a list of problems you see that are reoccurring. At some point you may need to go to a higher authority and if so, you have a documented list (dates, what happened) to take with you.

5. Stay Calm - don't let the boss see you become emotional about the situation and don't show anger at the boss. These two behaviors can loose respect and change the situation for you on the job.

6. Report the behavior - if all else fails and the behavior continues, don't be afraid to report it. Most companies have a way to report a grievance and you should know this policy and act on it if you need to do so.

7. Know when to leave - as Kenny Rogers once said, "You've got to know when to hold them...when to fold them... and when to walk away." Sometimes leaving a situation is the best thing you can do for yourself and it is better than staying within the toxic situation.

If you cannot quit your job....worst case will just have to accept the behavior. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you're not going to change your boss so you're going to have to modify your own behavior.


Anonymous said...

When you are a young paralegal (or a young anything) it is hard to stand your ground... however it is important to make your point but stay respectful. I quit a job (when I was younger) because of someone yelling at me having a total hissy fit (for something I did not do)... now I have (many years later) learned to discuss issues ... it works better if you chose to discuss them when things are calmer. Don't take things personally is my number 1 rule, and if you did do something wrong, apologize and find a way to fix things I would not recommend doing what I once did - told a boss that if he wanted to have a hissy fir to have at it and talk to me when he calmed down!! Not everyone can get away with that... respect, respect, respect - it works both ways !

Anonymous said...

Nah. I think you did exactly the right thing. And I wish more people had the courage to just walk. If HR hires five people to work for someone and they all walk out off the job - the spotlight will fall on the bad boss pretty quickly. I've seen bad bosses who had enough people "walk" that their departments were taken away from them and they were no longer allowed to supervise others. It's difficult to explain why you left a job without notice - but - if enough people do it- the perpetrator eventually WILL be dealt with.

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