Dear Colleagues!  This is Asrar Qureshi’s Blog Post #870 for Pharma Veterans. Pharma Veteransaims to share knowledge and wisdom from Veterans for the benefit of Community at large. Pharma Veterans Blog is published by Asrar Qureshi on WordPress, the top blog site. Please email to for publishing your contributions here.

Credit: Keira Burton

It is not possible to thrive under a boss who actively undermines your accomplishments, attacks your self-esteem, and blocks growth opportunities. If the boss is visibly toxic, he/she can be challenged or reported, but gaslighting bosses work insidiously, are never explicit about it, and work without apparently breaking any rules.

Here is some advice from Mary Abbajay, author of ‘Managing Up: How to Move Up, Win at Work, and Succeed with Any Type of Boss’, and President of Careerstone Group LLC. [Quote]

Make sure it really is gaslighting. Interrogate your experience. Are you sure your boss isn’t merely a jerk? Or a poor communicator? Or just doesn’t like you or your work product? Gaslighters actively seek to manipulate and control others by making the victim question their own reality and self-worth. They lie. They deny things that they said — even in writing. They project their faults onto others, putting them in a constant mode of defense. They sow confusion. They insinuate that you are the incompetent one. In short, they weaken you in order to control you. Their need to control can stem from myriad of pathologies such as incompetence, insecurity, narcissism, jealousy, or just plain pettiness. If you determine it is in fact gaslighting, take the following measures.

Document your interactions. Take notes when communicating with your boss and keep a record of your conversations. Try to have witnesses during meetings and use emails or other written documentation to recap conversations and agreements. Copy other team members on emails when appropriate. Be as clear as possible when communicating. Having a real-time record of your interactions will make it harder for your boss to question your sanity and back pedal on agreements. Doing this will also help you identify if you really are being gaslit.

Protect your mental health. This is critical. Toxic bosses are emotionally poisonous, so do what you can to create distance between your mental health and their abusive behaviors. Imagine you are wearing a golden protective shield that repels your boss’s arrows whenever you feel targeted. It’s also helpful to externalize their behavior instead of ruminating on their manipulative tactics. View their words and actions as separate from you. This might look like feeling sorry for them, finding them pathetic, or even finding their insecurity ridiculous. While that may not seem “nice,” building up your own psychological health is critical to your wellbeing. Focus on reaffirming your value to yourself by reminding yourself that your boss is the dysfunctional one, not you. Engage in as many life affirming activities you can. Exercise, meditate, journal, and do things that you love that remind you of who you are, and what you value, at your core.

Activate your support network. A strong support network is critical when dealing with an emotionally challenging situation. Surround yourself with friends and people who support and encourage you. Have outlets outside work for socializing and reducing stress. You might even consider talking to a coach, therapist, or other trained professional.

Minimize direct contact. Do what you can to limit interacting with your boss. Avoid hallway conversations, coffees, or lunches with them that you aren’t required to attend. Invest that extra time maximizing opportunities to connect with others. A great way to neutralize the impact of a boss who blocks your success is to build relationships with different leaders at your organizations. Seek out mentors and actively look to build your network with those people who can champion your skills and talents.

Confront or escalate with extreme caution. Toxic bosses don’t take confrontation well. Gaslighting is often associated with narcissistic personality disorder, so confronting them or hoping they will change may be as pointless because narcissists go to extreme lengths to preserve their ego and control over others. A gaslighter may use this confrontation to further punish you. Escalating to upper leadership or HR is difficult since gaslighting behavior is hard to prove. And frankly, chances are that a manipulative boss has covered their tracks with their boss.

Before you confront or escalate, become aware of the organization’s reputation in addressing similar employee experiences. There are two ways you can do this. Ask a few trusted colleagues at work if they have any information or experience — even second-hand knowledge would be helpful. Secondly, check out sites where employees leave reviews about their employers. A company with lots of negative reviews around employee treatment probably won’t offer you much support.

If you do confront your boss, have a clear game plan for what you want to achieve from that conversation. Be prepared to make effective requests for what you want and need. Inside every complaint is a request — find it and make it. If you are seeking more opportunities, find out specifically what you need to do to be considered. If you need clarification from their mixed messaging, then bring documented examples for them to review and clarify. If you feel information is being withheld from you, make a specific request for the information you need.

In short, be specific about the resources and support you need to do your job, explain your rationale, and articulate how this will not only benefit you, but also your boss and the organization. For example, if you are getting mixed messages, you might say, “I want to make sure that I am on the same page as you on project X so that I can deliver great results for you and the team. I’m confused about Y and need some clarification on Z. Could you explain a bit more about that?” Be sure to repeat back what they tell you, thank them, and follow up in an email.

Explore opportunities within your organization. There might be ways to escape your toxic boss without having to leave your company. Look into other positions in the company that interest you, meet with colleagues and managers in other departments, think about where your skills might translate, and make a case for your transition.

While all of the strategies above will help you cope with a terrible boss, often in these cases, the best strategy is to leave (if you can). [Unquote]



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