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#7 – Toxic behaviour in different positions - supervisor/manager

It becomes particularly interesting when we look at the different positions in the working environment that can be toxic in their behaviour. If it concerns the line manager or a manager, many feel even more powerless and desperate because there is a belief that the other person is always in the right because of their position and that as a "subordinate" you are not allowed to defend yourself.

How can toxic behaviour manifest itself in the constellation with the line manager?

First of all, it is difficult to find out whether the behaviour is "toxic" and therefore harmful. The behaviour can manifest itself in the following areas in particular:

1. Increased micromanagement

You are hardly allowed to work independently, make decisions and do your job, you have to report constantly and are constantly given new instructions without consultation. Things are decided above your head and you are increasingly pushed to the edge of your projects and tasks.

2. Lack of communication or coordination of clear expectations

There is hardly any communication and when there is, it is very unclear and non-transparent. Questions remain unanswered and there are no clear agreements.

3. Abuse of power or authority

The power vested in your line manager is exercised against you and/or the team. Management tends to be patriarchal or issues are not resolved democratically.

4. Harassment or discrimination

You are booted out, treated unfairly, exposed and harassed.

5. Lack of support or recognition

Your work and your person are not supported. You are left to your own devices. There is no recognition.

6. Negative or humiliating communication

Instead, your tasks and suggestions are criticised and devalued. You are shown up and defamed alone or in front of the whole team until you no longer dare to say anything.

The situations in which this behaviour occurs are also important. Are you treated like this in one-to-one conversations in particular or in larger groups? Are people talking about you or are you approached directly, etc.

Unfortunately, the possibilities of toxic behaviour patterns and manifestations are manifold and, above all, it is not possible to bring things back into adult consciousness.

What could be the background to this behaviour on the part of the line manager?

It is also interesting to see whether this behaviour has always been the order of the day or whether it has only become apparent in recent weeks. Has it always been the same intensity or has it increased? Why have you noticed it now? What was the trigger?

Of course, it could be that your manager's behaviour has changed due to increasing stress. This may have been caused by additional stress at work but also by private issues. This should not excuse it, but it should explain it. Sometimes there are phases in which toxic behaviour appears because it has simply become too much.

Unfortunately, it can also be due to the fact that the line manager is overstretched in their position, does not have the necessary competences and skills for healthy employee management and is simply not suitable for the role.

Of course, it is fatal if you work in a corporate environment where such behaviour is tolerated and even encouraged.

What fears can arise for you as the person affected?

Of course, the fear in this power constellation is different to that between colleagues. There is a fear that your superior will take revenge on you if you blow the whistle on his behaviour or expose him. Of course, this also means fear for your own career development and further training opportunities. What about your reputation if you are involved in such a situation and cause a ruckus? All in all, simply the professional disadvantages that can follow, up to and including losing your job.

But what opportunities does this precarious situation also offer you in case of doubt?

You can certainly use your open communication and assertiveness, your social skills and your ability to stand up for yourself in a positive way and even improve your working relationships.

In such situations with such people, you can grow enormously personally and train and develop your own conflict resolution skills. Also, don't underestimate your part in potentially improving the workplace culture. Every step towards resolving and uncovering the grievances leads to change, more awareness and the opportunity to break through these patterns of behaviour.

What are the possible risks?

Unfortunately, the risks are ongoing stress and the additional burden of the toxic situation, resulting in poorer work performance and a reduced sense of well-being. The fear of possible job loss is certainly the biggest one in this situation, which certainly makes it difficult to think clearly.

What can I do for myself?

So if I believe, after careful observation of my feelings and the respective circumstances, that I have a superior who is behaving toxically towards me (or others), the following steps are possible:

1. Self-reflection

Realise whether your perception is neutral and objective, or whether you may be oversensitive and personal sensitivities are playing a role on your side.

2. Documentation

Start recording the incidents and exchanges in writing. Be meticulous about the date, time, topic, people involved, what exactly happened, what words were used. This is always helpful in case there is a closer investigation one day or you seek help and you are no longer quite sure what actually happened. Unfortunately, we often forget a lot of things, so it's good to have them recorded.

3. Communication

An important step and first option is to talk to the person directly. Share your feelings, express yourself and your concerns calmly and thoughtfully and find out whether the other person is aware of their impact. Try to behave objectively and correctly and keep to yourself. Be prepared for anything and expect nothing.

4. Seek help

Try to seek support - among your colleagues, from other managers, possibly also from a level above and from the company mentor, if there is one. Perhaps there are others with similar experiences.

5. Involve HR

If the situation worsens and your line manager is unresponsive, blocks you or simply carries on, contact the relevant department and ask for help. Your documentation can help you to present the situation as objectively as possible.

6. External help

If you get the feeling that nobody in the company wants to or can really help you, there is of course always the option of seeking professional counselling - both psychological and legal. Sometimes important financial and labour law issues can be affected.

7. Self-care

Look after yourself particularly well in these extreme situations. Take good care of your health and well-being. Try to relieve the additional stress in other ways, exercise and relax. Anything that offers you support outside of work can stabilise you and give you strength.

8. Check career options

At the same time, it can make sense to look around for current job offers and alternatives so that you get a feel for what the market is like and that you have the freedom to leave at any time. This will give you more room for manoeuvre and the freedom you need.

Above all, find out what guidelines the company has in place to deal with such situations. These issues must always be addressed, uncovered and taken seriously; keeping them quiet doesn't really help anyone.

The following organisations can support you in your situation:

1. HR

The HR department is often the first point of contact to offer support or intervention for conflicts. They have an overview of policies, procedures and resources, especially how to deal with toxic behaviour.

2. Works council

This acts as a point of contact for employees and should mediate between the parties involved in the event of conflict.

3. Mentors and colleagues

Trusted colleagues can also provide important support by simply listening, making recommendations and working together to find a solution.

4. External counselling and coaching

An expert in special conflict situations and interpersonal problems can help you to analyse the situation, develop strategies and put them into practice.

5. trade unions

These organisations can provide legal support and advice.

6. Legal advice

Sometimes you need legal advice, especially if the toxic behaviour crosses legal boundaries or violates labour law.

7. External ombudsperson

Some companies provide independent mediators to resolve conflicts and handle complaints confidentially.

Overall, of course, the characteristics and consequences can vary depending on the individual situation. However, there are always some general options that can be applied.

It is important to note that each situation is unique, and the best course of action may depend on various factors, including the severity of the toxic behaviour and the company culture. It may well be helpful to consult with a trusted individual outside of the workplace to gain an objective perspective and support in making a decision without running the risk of exacerbating the internal situation.

The relationship with the superior will presumably always be a kind of dependency relationship, which in principle is already based on a special power structure. The strength and overcoming of one's own beliefs and resistance to become active in this situation are certainly massive due to the possible fears of the consequences. The greatest fear is certainly that of losing one's job, but also of not being heard, seen or only gaining a low level of credibility and ending up alone. This is why it is so important to take such situations and, above all, reports within the company seriously and follow them up. If the feeling arises that no one cares or is interested, the company becomes a kind of underground reality that leads to the truth no longer being spoken. In the medium to long term, this can have fatal consequences for many areas and lead to extreme undesirable developments.

Be courageous, address your issues where you feel safe and together find a solution or a good way to deal with the situation, grow from it and stand up for yourself! If you are confronted with such an issue, practise listening, empathising and being present in order to provide the person affected with good support and do justice to all sides with your help.


Coaching offers ideal support here to either take the first steps in conflict management and analysing one's own reaction structures or to directly implement new skills that enable and empower all those involved to learn to deal well and confidently with corresponding situations in relationships. Another option is to act as a mediator or observer and outline a neutral picture of the prevailing relationship patterns in the department or company and use this to provide insights and recommendations for action to the decision-makers.

Trusting that the best possible solution will be allowed to develop and be implemented.


Coaching can provide you with targeted support in overcoming upcoming challenges at every stage - internally in the team or as a leader in the company. Let's work out together how I can provide you in your individual situation with optimal support and customised assistance.

Contact me to take your next steps

Nicole Dildei Coaching

+49 157 58 267 427

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