In our last post, we covered the 7 signs of a toxic workplace. Now that you know that it’s not you but the circumstances, you can set out to fix the situation. For some of you, the suggestions below may work so well that you ultimately decide to stay. For others, these strategies are simply tools for helping you break through the madness and do your best work, while you’re hatching an escape plan. Either way, the advice here will remind you that you’re the one who has absolute control over the matter—and you have the power to rise above it and OWN your approach to how you handle the circumstances.
1. Get your Anthropology 101 on.
Humans can be interesting creatures, especially if they act in unbelievably toxic ways. So take a deep breath—from now on, you’re not going into the office as another cog in this wheel. You’re going in as an anthropologist and you’re embedding yourself in this crazy habitat known as the toxic workplace. Observe your boss and co-workers as the incredibly mind-boggling specimens they are. Your boss said what? Your colleague took whose idea? Fascinating. Take mental “field” notes. With this mindset, you not only rise above the fray, you start to see patterns as to how best to work with certain “species.” By being an observer, and not a participant in a toxic workplace, you let go of that victim mentality that’s so self-defeating.
2. Try to find one thing–just one thing–you like about the individuals who are making your job so difficult.
I give this advice all the time. It helps you feel empathy for your boss or coworkers, which, in turn, might help you connect with them. This might throw them off (which is always fun to see) and maybe get them to be nicer. Rising above their toxic behavior empowers you—and they’ll be sure to notice that, and, in most cases, even start to treat you better.
3. Avoid the a$&holes.
Sometimes, it’s just one person that creates a toxic environment—but like a horrendous stomach bug, that nastiness can spread far and wide. Develop tactics to stay away and minimize interaction, as Robert I. Sutton, Ph.D., a Stanford Graduate School of Business professor, advises. For instance, bundle your responses to a toxic person’s email requests, so that you can send just one email instead of three. Try to conduct one slightly longer meeting with that toxic person as opposed to three shorter ones. Sit apart from said person in meetings if possible. Sometimes, out of sight is out of mind.
4. Use your words.
If your supervisor is vague, don’t hesitate to ask questions. Always repeat her instructions in a way that makes clearer sense to you, and have her approve it in writing before you take on the task. No need to make a big deal out of it. Just position it as if you’re just trying to get things done right; of course, in reality, a trail can be very helpful if there’s ever an “I said/they said” moment. If, in a meeting, a bully criticizes the way you handled a project, ask her for advice on how she might tackle or fix the situation, giving her a sense of purpose. It will diffuse the situation if done in a way that sounds like you are really asking for help, even if you never plan on using it ;-). Placing the focus on the success of the project (and not on an individual) and communicating in a calm way will help prevent the negative vibes from escalating.
5. Take initiative.
Sometimes a toxic workplace is beyond hope‑in which case, don’t bother with this one. But if your colleagues are generally likeable, maybe someone simply needs to step up to the task of fun-ing up the place. Maybe that person needs to be you. If appropriate, talk with your boss about what can be done. If not, just do it. You might suggest that everyone pitch in for a weekly or monthly bagel breakfast meeting. Or perhaps it’s worth instituting a monthly gathering where each department presents on skills that may be useful to other teams. Little social interactions could go a long way.
6. Take care of yourself.
Go for walks during the day to get out of the toxicity. Schedule a meeting on your calendar where you call a friend for support or do some meditation. Whatever you do… take a break. You’ll come back to your desk feeling a bit more refreshed and motivated to get through the day.
7. Start looking for a new role.
I always tell my clients that they should always be looking, whether they like their job or not. Keeping your resume current and “dating around” on your job enables you to share your accomplishments and remind yourself not only of what a badass you are but also that other options exist, so you should never ever feel stuck.
8. Practice gratitude.
This may sound new-agey, but hear me out. According to the burgeoning science of gratitude [Psychology Today https://bit.ly/2In1Vcp], people who keep journals on what they’re grateful for sleep better, are more optimistic and resilient, and feel less depressed. That said, a gratitude practice may be your best weapon against a toxic workplace. Before bed, jot down one thing about work you were grateful for that day —it could be anything, even seemingly trivial things: your ergonomic desk chair, the presentation you nailed, the exceptionally good latte you enjoyed that afternoon, the fact that you don’t feel money stress because you were able to pay your bills on time. It won’t change your toxic workplace, but it will help shift your perspective, and allow you to deal a whole lot better. Most importantly, you’ll show up at job interviews with a more-positive attitude—which is something hiring managers always love to see.
So there you have it: 8 ways to combat a toxic environment. If you’re looking for more advice on how to best handle a toxic workplace–or better yet transform your career–click here to listen to my last Career Boost Call. During this call, I shared more tools and stories to help you thrive in the most challenging of circumstances, or GET OUT and find something better.
You can get the details on my next Career Boost Call here.
If you know you are ready to start exploring working with me and take Power Over Your Career™, drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and the LOAMLife team will sign you up for a FREE one-on-one discovery call.