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How can you mend a toxic boss/admin relationship?

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Question: “My boss is incredibly difficult to work with, especially after I filed a gender discrimination complaint a few years ago.  He invades my personal space, tosses papers all over my desk, postures aggressively, deliberately tries to upset me, and has hurt the atmosphere of cooperation I once shared with my colleagues. I’m close enough to retirement so that I can’t realistically quit, but how do I foster a working relationship with someone who causes such stress?”   – Sonia, Casper, Wy.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous_J October 4, 2012 at 2:52 pm

My situation is nothing on the order of the OP’s, but I work with a boss with whom I DO NOT get along AT ALL. Everything I do is wrong. I am micromanaged. He’s been trying to manage me out the door since I started here about 5 years ago (I’ve also been looking that whole time, so it’s mutual.) He is a poor communicator, and he is inconsistent.

I either: 1) avoid him at all costs–I can deal direclty with my coworkers on most things; or 2) keep that flat, neutral tone. The last time he called me into his office, I stood for the meeting.

There’s a great book I read a while back–about admins–called _The Slam and Scream_. It’s about how to deal with various office dynamics as an admin, and though it was written (I think) in the 80s, I found a lot of the information in it very useful. If you can find it, I highly recommend it. That book is where I picked up the tip to stand during contentious meetings with your boss. It makes you seem more imposing, and it also helps you keep your own emotions in check.

The best I can tell you, OP, is to either go ahead and retire or try to find another, short term job to fill in until you’re ready to retire. No one deserves this kind of treatment!

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Charisse August 16, 2012 at 4:27 pm

In my professional experience as an Executive Assistant I always use a “please pass the butter” tone. It helps neutralize a hostile situation if the other person knows they will not get a rise out of you. It’s hard to do and takes practice BUT it can be done. Talk to yourself that way and it will come across to others. Chat to inside your mind “please pass the butter”.

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Sharon August 9, 2012 at 10:42 pm

I am experiencing same difficulties after filing a complaint for sexual harassment when a male coworker put an x rated porn picture in my mail. My boss sheltered the men and treated me horribly after that and it just keeps getting worse. I tried talking to my boss, went to HR, and higher ups but nothing helped.

I think there is probably a lot more to her story than said here. Nobody wants to file a complaint. It is a last resort to try to gain something resemblIng a normal work atmosphere.

Unless you have been victimized and terrorized by a boss and found a solution that works, you probably can’t understand.

I know I have tried friendly, professional gestures, asked how I can help bring peace to the office and even went so far as being hypnotized so I would remain calm in the face of his attempts to destroy me.

Some bosses need a dog to kick.

Although it is good to take a close look at yourself to see whether there is anything you can do to improve, also remember that bosses are people. Some people are basically good. Some are leaders and some are ego maniacs who can never be wrong. If the latter is the case, know others can see it and don’t like how you are treated.

Try to focus on the gems you work with, continue to do the best you can, improve where you can, and leave as soon as you can because your boss sounds toxic.

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Gloria August 10, 2012 at 9:56 am

Excellent response, Sharon. People who have not experienced this situation or really witnessed something like this do not understand. A lot of people won’t speak up. I personally have, on behalf of myself and others. I’m an Executive Assistant and will address these problems. It’s more effective when you have management who will get involved and not tolerate abuse or harassment. Once again, it opens the company up to a lawsuit. He already retaliated against her after the complaint was filed by the way he treated her. It got worse. It shows guilt on his part. I didn’t go through all the responses but read the next one after this. That response is revicitimizing Sonia by holding her responsible for the treatment she is experiencing. Just because her relationships have been injured doesn’t mean they don’t agree with her filing the complaint. I notice this is a common problem when a manager acts like this. It also happens when there is a toxic employee that a manager doesn’t discipline. I read many things on this topic. You will never mend a toxic relationship because a toxic person is just that. Toxic. The best thing is to leave ASAP. Speak up and don’t tolerate the abuse. Don’t allow it to happen. Try to stay away from the abusers. Its uncomfortable and scary to speak up but it wil get easier the more you do it. Document everything in a file: Date, time, what happened, who said what. This can be used for HR and in a court of law. Keep this copy with you because if you leave it in your desk, they can take it and destroy it. Good luck and hope you get out of there soon.

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Joan August 9, 2012 at 5:35 pm

There are several related revelations bundled into this paragraph. The phrase “especially after I filed a gender discrimination complaint a few years ago” indicates that your relationship with this person has been contentious from the beginning. He obviously was angered by the complaint you filed. The list of complaints following could all be a matter of perception on your part, reactions to this boss’s less than cordial feelings toward a person who caused him/her grief. And that last part, “has hurt the atmosphere of cooperation I one shared with my colleagues” sounds as if those colleagues do not agree with your interpretation of said boss’s actions or motivation. Sometimes people just plain do not “fit” personality-wise and it can be very easy to take every spoken word, every gesture, every look as a personal, malicious assault. I also am near retirement. I also deal with a difficult boss–one I chose to work with, which may make the difference. He is not going to change, so how I deal with the situation — and the stress — is up to me. I certainly do not take his emotional outbursts personnally and I immediately put on a flat, professional demeanor when he is on a rant. That kind of in-control personal appearance in the face of the storm — witnessed by colleagues — results in his respect and theirs. It is not easy to achieve when emotions of fight-or-flight are running high, but it works for me and for several others in the office who also employ it with this boss. Read some books, take some how-to seminars, and join your local IAAP Chapter to get some other professionals’ perspective on handling the situation.

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Pam H. August 9, 2012 at 5:28 pm

The main thing to remember her is that you can NOT control another person!! I was in the same type of situation of not receiving any respect, and even thought I tried to talk to her, I finally had to realize that I couldn’t make changes in my boss, but I could change my reactions. She can no longer make angry enough to react. I walk away and take the time to assess what I can say or do to address the situation before I open my mouth. Sometimes, that is all it takes to make the behaviour stop. They are no longer getting the reactions they want. As others have said, keep it PROFESSIONAL!

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JC August 9, 2012 at 4:34 pm

I agree with Ashley. You cannot control another person, but you can be the bigger person and not stoop to his level. Always remain professional. My mother always said to let the comments roll off your back like water off a duck’s back. My father always told me I could “cry all the way to the bank”; be happy you are receiving a paycheck. (He grew up during the depression, so any job was a good job.) Your colleagues should be able to see through your boss’s bluff and blunder. If there are physical attacks, document the damage with pictures and take them to HR.

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BFoster August 9, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Sonia,

I am sorry to hear you are having to face this on a weekly basis. What a terrible thing for a boss to do. I have a few questions for you? Does your boss have a boss? Can you report anything to that person? Don’t have proof; what about video camera or witnesses? What about board of directors; does your company have a board? Can you report anything to them to have them oversee how he is representing the company? Do you react to what he does with anger, crying or any emotions? If you do, try your best to stop reacting, because you are giving him exactly what he wants. If you aren’t reacting and he continues on, just do your best to continue on with your work. In the interim, ask your co-workers to keep an eye out for things that he does so you have witness to anything that may impede your situation; if he tries to deny any benefits to you, or state you are being insubordinate. If he is being harrassing to you still, get it on video or something and report him to the proper people. I wish you the best! Very sad that a person with the title “boss” can act more like a child, and represent the company in such poor taste.

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Sharon August 9, 2012 at 4:20 pm

First, stand up straight, put your arms at your side, and look him directly in the eyes. Then in a calm voice say what needs to be said, such as “Your actions are slowing down my ability to do the task you need done.” Or “I am waiting for you to finish expressing yourself – when you are finished I will be able to get back to work.” “Or just watch him and then say, “Are you finished? I didn’t want to interrupt you. Now I will begin to ……”
Secondly, if it’s not your fault, don’t get upset – it’s really his problem, not yours. Read “Dealing With People You Can’t Stand” – it’s an AWESOME book that also helps with family members. :) You might even, like me, see yourself as one of the problem people at times – we ALL are at times. Ouch! It really made me change my own behavior as well as teaching me how to deal with theirs.

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Ashley August 9, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Is this the type of person you can talk to directly about the situation? If so, ask to talk to your boss privately. In a very non-threatening or defensive manner, let your boss know you would like to improve on your professional relationship and ask what you can do to aid in that desire.

If not, then you need to simply tough it out. Remember, you can not control your boss BUT you can control how you react to him.

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