Angela is normally a happy go lucky and warm person to be around. She has lots of friends and feels generally content with her life and career. Then, changes started happening at her work involving structure, operations, and personnel. At first, Angela thought she could swim through the changing tides at work, but eventually felt the pressure to go along with changes that she did not believe in and the stress of putting with the inconsistencies of upper management.
As the months wore on, Angela found herself more and more cynical about her career and her professional relationships. She found a colleague who saw things in a similar way and they spent many hours complaining about their work and criticizing their colleagues. By doing this, she felt as if she could vent her frustrations in order to face another grueling workday.
Angela found her patience starting to wear thin at work, but also in her personal life. She took offense to everything around her. In her eyes, her friends became annoying and rude. She did not want to socialize and open up like she used to and began to close up and hide her feelings as she learned at work that opening up and voicing her opinion would only lead to reprimand and rejection. Angela was no longer satisfied with her career and she was no longer satisfied with her personal life. She didn’t realize that her work environment was poisoning her general positive demeanor and changing her for the worst.
Does this sound like you? Working in a negative and toxic work environment can cause serious problems that bleed into our morale, our personal life, and general life outlook. Without knowing it, we can begin to engage in behaviors that cause us to become negative, unhappy, and even sick. Look at the following list of symptoms and ask yourself if these descriptions characterize your experience:
Signs of working in a toxic work environment which can also bleed into your personal life:
- Gossiping about colleagues’ personal lives and choices
- Feelings of aggression and anger towards others who do not share the same perspective
- Rebellion against changing operations or policies
- Distrust in others and management
- Disinterest in socializing
- Withdrawal from participation and sharing opinions
- Criticizing others for their professional and life choices
- The need to avenge “wrong doing” or punish others
- Exercising the “silent treatment” against others who voice their opinions
- Creating a clique of likeminded friends in order to block others out
- Mocking others
- Initiation and/or spreading rumors
- Creating fantasies of “telling off” colleagues, management, customers and other individuals
- Wishing harm or negative circumstances towards someone
- Imagining the failure of others in order to justify your own opinion
- Rationalizing your own negative behavior as a consequence of the wrong that has been down against you
If you have or are experienced any of these symptoms, chances are you have or presently are working in a toxic work environment. If you are afraid that your personality and personal life is being negatively affected by a toxic work environment, you have options.
- Create constructive boundaries between yourself and others such as limiting discussions to work related business only and not discussions about personnel qualities.
- Choose to ignore and avoid conversations that criticize and mock others.
- Maintain a minimal level of respect for every colleague – even those that annoy or irritate you – such as saying, “Good morning,”, shaking hands, maintaining eye contact, and speaking to others in a respectful tone.
- Learn strategies for dealing with negative and difficult people. I highly recommend the book, which I have in my library, Perfect Phrases for Dealing with Difficult People: Hundreds of Ready-to-Use Phrases for Handling Conflict, Confrontations and Challenging Personalities
- Distance yourself from people who instigate conflict and negativity.
- Avoid showing favoritism and exclusive behaviors.
- Choose to say one positive thing about someone that hurts you or simply say nothing at all.
- Meditate on your own and envision everyone getting along and working together.
- Envision or pray that those that persecute or annoy you mature professionally, emotionally, and spiritually so that they may feel and understand your feelings.
- Envision yourself dealing with negative situations and conflicts with grace, humanity, and compassion.
- Choose to work on your weaknesses before pointing out the negative in others
- And, of course, look to find opportunities to improve the situation, but if not, learn to accept and make peace with everyone before choosing to move on.
Toxic work environments, and any toxic environment for that matter, can harm us in ways that we have never imagined. They can affect the way we see the world and deal with others long after we have removed ourselves from the situation – for the better or worse. There is hope and there is always a lesson to be learned through our experiences – the bad included. Choose to rise above any seemingly hopeless conflict and see the bigger picture that offers positive growth, change, and wisdom.
Have you ever worked in a toxic work environment? What was your experience? How did you rise above it?