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What to do with a toxic work environment

May 29, 2015

Even in the most promising jobs or careers, the potential for a negative work environment unfortunately exists. Sometimes it’s disagreements with a coworker, pressure from a boss, or just general awkwardness that leads to an environment feeling uncomfortable and stressful.

If you find yourself in a toxic environment, don’t assume that your only option is to leave your job to find a new one. Here are some tips for what to do with a less-than-ideal working world.

Use your words well and wisely

Many negative situations can be resolved with good communication. Set up a meeting with the person you are having an issue or conflict with, and resolve to clearly communicate how you are feeling and how you think the situation can be resolved. Be sure not to attack or criticize, but instead come from a positive perspective geared toward resolution.

Sue, a hiring expert from Gap, Inc. adds this insight: “If you can articulate the different points of view on an issue, acknowledge the conflict, and decide together how to handle it, you can build trust and avoid future conflict.”

Keep your emotions in check

It can be so easy to get worked up over things that feel stressful and uneasy, but bringing emotions into the picture will only complicate things further.

Susan, a hiring expert from Praxair gives her advice for how to handle a meeting with someone who is causing tension: “Smile and be at ease during the meeting.  Don't raise your voice, and don't cry.  Ensure you walk away from the meeting with mutually agreed actions and thank [them] for their time.”

Be humble and willing to admit your own faults or weaknesses

In having conversation with coworkers or supervisors who you feel are creating a stressful environment, you may find that you too are partially responsible. If this happens, don’t get instantly defensive or aggressive, but instead listen respectfully to the feedback you are given and be gracious toward them in response. Take time privately to internalize the feedback and create a personal plan of action for how you can take ownership and work toward a better environment as well.

Act in a timely manner

It is so much better to resolve issues quickly after they arise than to let things go unresolved while frustration builds. As soon as it is possible, find a time to privately meet with any coworker or boss who has been involved in a negative situation or conversation.

Find ways to connect or collaborate

Sometimes, the reason issues arise in the workplace is simply because of miscommunications or unintentional disconnects. There are many factors that play into working relationships, so finding ways to connect with your coworkers and supervisors will be helpful to making them the best they can be. Compliment a coworker, ask about their weekend, share a favorite lunch recipe, or find other ways to build a safe and neutral common ground. Doing so will hopefully help to ease any work-related tension that might arise and create a friendly foundation between you and the people you work with.

Realize that compromise is crucial

Neil, a recruiter for Schwan’s, shares this advice: “Remember that not all solutions will go in your favor and that compromise is the key. If you have approached your supervisor and still do not feel that the situation has been resolved then your HR department would be your next step.”

Again, remember that humility and graciousness will go a long way in resolving conflict in your workplace.

It will take serious effort to build a better work environment after it has been soured, but it is possible. If you can rise above what is negative or toxic and approach things with an unemotional and humble attitude, you will be well on your way to resolving issues. Not to mention it will make your workplace happier and healthier overall.

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