Does your boss play favourites at work, pitting employees against each other and cultivating gossip? Do you have a manager who takes credit for your work, micro-manages, lies, bullies, or has temper tantrums? Perhaps a co-worker who loves to give backhanded compliments or is unreliable with deadlines they said they’d meet to help you out? Then you’re suffering from workplace toxicity.
Its effects include anxious, emotional and distracted employees who doubt themselves, become less confident, and take sick leave. Toxic bosses cost their company’s productivity as well as their employee’s mental health. If your defences are up, you’re not as effective as you can be. People in a negative state of mind are far less creative and less able to spot and act upon new opportunities.
But other than leave your job, what can you do can you do to protect yourself from toxic leaks? Great new research now shows how to effectively deal with these situations.
* Seek social support, whether that’s friends or family, or workplace colleagues and mentors. Many people have been in a similar situation before, which helps you to remember that the person with poor behaviour is the one with the problem, not you. People in your social networks may also have their own helpful strategies to share, but make sure the strategies are truly helpful – i.e. revenge planning fantasies are not!
* Work on your overall health and ability to manage stress. Eat healthily, exercise, meditate, learn calming breathing, and make sure you’re sleeping as well as you can (need help with sleep? – check out my book on the subject here!). All these lifestyle factors can either help or hinder your ability to handle stress – think about how you react to emotionally charged situations when you’re tired and hungry versus when you’re not.
* Keep yourself focussed on you and your goals - both inside the workplace and out. This stops the toxic person from taking over your life. While you have to deal with them when they’re directly speaking to you, you choose to invite them into your mind when you rehash the situation later, and that time could be better spent on something that’s more valuable to you.
* Learn how to change your thinking about the interactions with your toxic co-worker so you can remain calm. Reminding yourself that their behaviour is childish and a result of their own pain and inadequacies can take some of the sting out of their words and actions. If you’re not sure how to take this perspective, see a psychologist to learn how.
* Learn how to manage negative emotions. Most of us either ignore our feelings and hope they’ll go away (no, they don’t!), or are easily overwhelmed by them and end up reacting out of emotion even when this is contrary to our values and goals. To deal successfully with a toxic person, it’s best to tread the middle ground – to acknowledge their impact on your feelings in the moment, but to be able to let the feelings go and not have them run your life afterwards. I’ve written a brief guide on how to practice this in a previous post (‘Expansion’). This usually requires new knowledge and practicing new strategies for handling your feelings, and engaging a psychologist to do this speeds up your learning considerably.
What Doesn’t Work
* Confrontation. Although it might seem to be tackling the problem, you’re unlikely to effect change that way. Challenging people puts them in a position where they feel the need to defend themselves, and actually strengthens their beliefs that they’re in the right. It’s far more effective to learn how to be resilient to stress, as this is something under your control – unlike other people’s behaviour.
*Avoiding or ignoring the toxic person. This is unprofessional on your part and gives the person the power they crave. Instead, act as though it’s business as usual. This sends the message that they’re ineffectual, while you’re strong and not intimidated by them.
*Spending time thinking about your negative interactions with them and reliving the negative feelings. While you may not be able to avoid their words and behaviour at the time, reliving it later is doing a toxic person’s work for them. Spend your time away from them building yourself up and thinking about positive interactions you have with other people to give yourself a sense of balance and to help keep their behaviour in perspective.
*Taking sick leave. Seems like a good solution, but again, it’s just avoiding the problem and giving the toxic person a sense of power. While you’ll feel better while you’re away from work, when you come back, the problem remains.
If you are finding the situation to be unmanageable for yourself long term, then take control and look for a new workplace. If you can find a more supportive environment, it doesn’t make sense to stay in a job which fosters stress.
Do you need help coping with a toxic person? I have lots of knowledge, tips and tricks to share with you. Make an appointment by calling 0421720635 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org today.
Lana Hall, Psychologist. Helping you to live your best life, using the power of psychology.