How to deal with a toxic boss

If the culture at work is causing you anxiety – and making you doubt your abilities – the good news is that things can change. Here Helen Unwin shares how you can regain your confidence

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Happiful

If you’re struggling with self-confidence at work, thinking there is something wrong with you, please stop; take a step back, and look at things objectively. While there are times when we might not be performing quite to our best, if it feels like the culture is crushing your spirit, and you get that dread in the pit of your stomach each morning, there could be something else at play.

Toxic bosses create a culture of fear, mistrust and presenteeism – where hierarchy determines the value of your input, and everyone is judged on their ability to imitate the ‘leader’. Some people thrive in this environment but, if you don’t, it can make your life hell, as you doubt your self-worth and your overall abilities.

Creating a foundation of self-knowledge and acceptance is the first step we need to take back control. So, if you’re struggling under a toxic boss or culture, read on to find ways to rediscover yourself, take back your power and feel happier at work.

What’s important to you?

Without clarifying what you stand for, or what’s important to you, you can find yourself living someone else’s ideal life. In his 2009 TED talk, Simon Sinek asks, “Why do you get out of bed in the morning?” Having a purpose, cause, or set of beliefs can motivate us through the hardest days at work. Have you ever considered what your ‘Why’ is?

Living your values is another way to shift your focus on to what’s important. To discover yours, find a ‘core values list’ on Google. Narrow down your options to a top five that resonate most, and describe what each one means to you. Next, explain what the opposite looks like. Finally, rank yourself against this value, from one to 10, on how close you feel you’re living to it today. When you’re not able to live out your values it can make you feel in conflict, or out of control, so take time to understand how you could move closer to them.

Remember who you are and what you’re good at

I remember a time where my confidence at work hit rock bottom. It seemed like there was only one way of doing things, and it felt wrong, so I completely doubted my abilities and self-worth. Thankfully, a training course opened my eyes to different work personas and personality profiles – each completely acceptable in their own right.

The Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a personality-profiling test that assigns a four-letter abbreviation to 16 personality types. Each type has its own, unique, combination of personality aspects which reveals typical behaviour and natural tendencies in life, work and relationships. You can find free versions online – I like to use, as it gives plenty of detail for each personality type.

More and more companies are starting to realise that focusing on weaknesses is bad for business – they now focus on discovering, and maximising, strengths. Strengths are ways of thinking or working that you find easy – and, because they come naturally, we often think everyone has them. I find the best tool for discovering your strengths is the Gallup Strengths finder, which highlights your top strengths out of a list of 34. Although it’s not free, you could buy the book, StrengthsFinder 2.0, to get a code for one use of the online test in order to identify your five top strengths.

See the world from their shoes

After working through your ‘Why’, core values, personality type, and strengths, you will be able to see how everyone is wired differently, including your boss. One way of improving fraught relationships is by trying to see the world from their perspective using a tool called ‘perceptual positioning’. You place two chairs next to each other, sitting on the first to tell your boss everything you want to say; then, change chairs and respond as them. This method helps you to understand they are human – and can also reveal where they’re coming from.

Using your knowledge and stepping into action

Having a new sense of self-knowledge can have a positive impact on your self-acceptance, but using it is where the real benefits happen. How will you use this information at work to improve the relationship you have with yourself, and your boss or colleagues? What boundaries do you need to put in place? How can you change your interactions with your boss so they feel more authentic and balanced? How can you use your unique strengths to maximum effect?

I really believe everyone has unique strengths and talents which can be sidelined when we’re trying to fit in. Please don’t suffer in silence, or feel you’re not good enough, for one more minute. Take back control by remembering who you are, what you want in your life, and then take action to make it happen.

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