The tyranny of toxic managers: Applying emotional intelligence to deal with difficult personalities Toxic managers are a fact of life. Some managers are toxic most of the time; most managers are toxic some of the time. Knowing how to deal with people who are rigid, aggressive, selfcentered or exhibit other types of dysfunctional behaviour can improve your own health and that of others in the workplace. This author describes the mechanisms for coping. By Roy Lubit Roy Lubit is a member of the Center for Research on Social and Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, and on the faculty of the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, New York City. He is also the author of Coping with Toxic Managers and Subordinates (Financial Times Prentice Hall, 2003), and the forthcoming Coping with Toxic Organizational Dynamics. For further information see (www.roylubit.com.) Toxic managers dot the landscape in most organizations, making them seem, at times, like war zones. These managers can complicate your work, drain your energy, compromise your sanity, derail your projects and destroy your career. Your ability to deal with these corporate land mines will have a significant impact on your career. Those who are able to recognize toxic managers quickly and understand what makes them tick will be in the best position to protect themselves. Difficult managers are a fact of life and how they affect your life depends upon the skills you develop to deal with them. The issue is not simply a matter of individual survival. Toxic managers divert people's energy from the real work of the organization, destroy morale, impair retention, and interfere with cooperation and information sharing. Their behaviour, like a rock thrown into a pond, can cause ripples distorting the organization's culture and affecting people far beyond the point of impact. Senior management and HR can significantly improve an organization's culture and functioning by taking steps to find and contain those who are most destructive. Leadership can spare an organization serious damage by learning how to recognize problematic personality traits quickly, placing difficult managers in positions in which their behaviour will do the least harm, arranging for coaching for those who are able to grow, and knowing which managers are time bombs that need to be let go. This article will help you learn how to avoid becoming a scapegoat, to survive aggressive managers' assaults, and to give narcissistic and rigid managers the things they need to be satisfied with you. It will also help senior management and HR to recognize toxic managers before they do serious damage. The basic theme of the article is that to deal effectively with toxic behavior you need to understand what lies underneath it, design an intervention to target those underlying factors, and have sufficient control of your own feelings and behaviour so that you can do what is most effective, rather than let your own anger or anxiety get the best of you. In other words, you need to develop your emotional intelligence. Emotional Intelligence There are two major components of emotional intelligence, personal competence and social competence. Personal competence refers to the ability to understand your own feelings, strengths, and weaknesses (self awareness), and the ability to manage those feelings effectively (self management). For example, being able to contain your anger and anxiety and thereby think clearly in upsetting situations is crucial to making good decisions and influencing others. Social competence refers to the ability to understand what others are feeling (social awareness) and having
Ivey Business Journal March/April 2004
the skills to work effectively with others (relationship management). The ability to understand what people think and feel and know how to persuade and motivate them, and to resolve conflicts and forge cooperation is among the most important skills of successful leaders and managers. Components...