There’s never been a worse time to be a bad IT manager.

IT unemployment rates have plummeted nationwide. Even where it’s bad, like West Virginia, 4.3% is still pretty good. And if you’re an unemployed IT professional who lives in West Virginia and you’re willing to relocate, it doesn’t have to be Nebraska or North Dakota (1.6%). You could probably find work in Hawaii if the island life appeals to you (2.0%) or a true paradise like Minnesota (2.3%) (okay, it isn’t paradise, but it’s where I live).

Right now, if you’re an IT professional with even a few years of experience under your belt and can’t find a job, it’s safe to say you’re doing something wrong.

Which also means that if you’re an employed IT professional working in a toxic situation, there’s little reason for your suffering to continue.

What you might need are ways to spot when your work environment is about to become toxic … for example, when a new manager replaces the one with whom you’ve established a comfortable working relationship and it isn’t clear what working with your new boss will be like.

As always, KJR is here to help with some Workplace Incipient Toxicity Indicators, to help you spot when it’s time to polish your resume, redouble your networking efforts, and scan the landscape for more congenial situations.

But first, a non-indicator, just in case you’re a newbie at this and not a hardened cynic (that is, someone who looks at the world through glass-colored glasses).

The non-indicator: Your new manager says all the right things. Of course he does. In my experience, every new manager always says all the right things because they’ve all been through this themselves and have memorized the Right-Thing-To-Say Playbook.

Instead, pay attention to these, more reliable indicators:

Talk-to-listen ratio: Smart managers know that when they walk into a new situation, they know very little about what they’re facing. Smarter ones know the odds are high that what’s been explained to them has at best a limited correlation with what’s really going on.

The smartest make time to listen to the people who do the actual work of their organization or, if the organization is too big, to ask lots of people who the star performers are and then make time to listen to them.

If your new manager doesn’t invest heavily in organizational listening, it’s a sign it’s time for you to move on.

High-level/low-level attention span: The higher up someone is in the management hierarchy, the less time they have to understand the details. The effective ones understand that this is a problem — that “the view from 50,000 feet” is ManagementSpeak for “wrong” — and make sure their having too little time to master the details doesn’t lead them to make ignorant decisions. They achieve this by delegating decisions to those most competent to make them, namely, those who do sweat the details, to whom they share the strategy without considering it to be the only decision dimension that matters.

Those who care more about climbing than about getting the job done look at upper managers who don’t personally deal with the details and consider it a career advancement strategy. They make it clear they operate at a strategic level — that details are unimportant irritations best left to lesser mortals, so please don’t waste my time with trivia. I have more important matters on my superior mind.

If your new manager doesn’t recognize that, in the wise words of the KJR Manifesto, “Before you can be strategic you have to be competent” … if she doesn’t recognize that strategies that ignore the details are strategies that will fail … it’s probably time for you to choose a new employment strategy.

One that will allow you to succeed.

Too much to do. Too little time: One of the most important skills for anyone in management is to keep control of your calendar. If someone else controls your schedule, they control you.

If your new manager is chronically overwhelmed by his list of appointments, all of which require his personal attendance, your new manager isn’t someone you should tie your fortunes to for the long haul.

If we were living through a replay of 2008, I’d be giving you different advice — about how to survive in bad situations.

Right now, employees have choices. So don’t be victimized by a toxic workplace. You can do better.

So do it.

Now imagine you’re on the receiving end.

We’ve been talking (well, posting and commenting) about how to prepare for and conduct conversations, both those that are difficult and those that should be easy.

Easy or difficult, if you’re on the giving end you have one clear advantage: You get to prepare. If you’re on the receiving end your ability to prepare is limited, even if the deliverer has scheduled the conversation and stated the subject clearly.

Mostly, it’s as if the other person is doing stand-up while you’re performing involuntary improv. How can you prepare when you aren’t in a position to prepare?

Answer: Start preparing right now. No, you can’t prepare for the specifics. Yes, you can be prepared with broad strategies you’ve spent time mentally rehearsing.

Start with the broadest strategy of all. That’s your so-called “personal brand” — your image and how you project it.

My own personal brand (no secrets here!) is “relaxed and confident.” If I’m caught off-guard, that’s what I retreat to … not as well and reliably as I’d like, but it’s what I shoot for.

Your brand might very well be different: Young and brash, smooth and suave, quietly competent, bold and intimidating … the specifics matter less than making how you want to come across in all situations a conscious decision.

This means more than recognizing the advantages to be gained from those around you perceiving you this way. It also means accepting that the image you project might not always be advantageous, but that’s how you have to present yourself anyway.

Because you don’t get to be situational about this. Sure, you’re allowed moods. But being a completely different person depending on who you’re talking to and about what is more likely to make you come across as a complete phony (or victim of dissociative identity disorder) than anything else.

And in case you think planning at this level is the hallmark of a complete phony, I disagree. There’s no reason the image you project should be a one-to-one reflection of your self-image. But there’s every reason you should do everything you can to make your projected image real — for your self-image to become your projected one, so that you make yourself into who you want to be.

Know who you want to be. That’s how you should behave no matter the situation you’re faced with.

Start with the easiest: Your manager compliments you publicly for a job well done. Hey, it could happen! It happens all the time.

How do you handle public compliments? No, don’t tell me. Ask yourself the best way to handle them. Pay attention to how other people handle them, both those who are awkward and those who are graceful. If you know in advance how you’d like to behave in this situation you’ll be graceful about it.

How about the other extreme. Say your manager sits you down for a corrective action talk when you’ve been thinking your performance has been just fine and dandy.

It’s out of the blue and entirely unexpected. You say … what, and in what tone of voice?

A primal scream is out of the question. So is bursting into tears, as neither one is likely to fit your personal brand.

What’s the right answer? Quick — you have no more than three seconds before your silence will be your response.

The right answer is to buy time. As Relaxed-and-Confident Guy, I might ask, calmly, for some of the specifics that have created my manager’s perception.

Young-and-Brash woman might, with a level of animation that doesn’t cross over into hostility, say something like, “I’m not entirely surprised this has become an issue, but I am surprised they (whoever they are) decided to involve you. Tell me what you heard.”

Beyond this I’ll give you one guideline that will stand you in good stead no matter what difficult conversation you’re on the receiving end of. That’s to choose phrasing that makes you and the other person “we,” in a situation the two of you will have to collaborate to resolve.

It can make the difference between you being perceived as argumentative and defensive and the other person wondering why this conversation needed to happen.

Even better, it will invalidate the other person’s plan, which puts you on a more even footing.

Now, you’re both doing improv.