How to Navigate a Toxic Workplace

Aug/16/2020 / by Dr. Sonia Ashok & Dr. Bina Patel
Image courtesy of Christina/WOCINTECH via Unsplash

Dr. Sonia Ashok and Dr. Bina Patel joined us at a recent virtual happy hour to talk about navigating a toxic workplace. The response was so positive that we wanted to share more of their advice here. Read on to learn more.

“Sorry, but you’re not qualified for the role.”

A client recently came to me because she received some news early Monday morning that she got turned down for a temporary job assignment within her division that should have been a shoo-in. The reason she was given: She did not have enough experience in the agency. Immediately, she began scanning her resume and the job description, knowing she had met every single criterion. It just didn’t make any sense. But, it turned out that the position was offered to a male employee who had a tight relationship with company leadership.

How many times have you felt passed over for something you felt was the perfect fit, only to see it slip through your fingers due to office politics? In such turbulent times, these incidents of getting slighted in the workplace add to the overall stress that we’re collectively experiencing.

A toxic workplace is never easy to navigate. In fact, if the culture of an organization doesn’t embrace an empowered workforce at every level, you may be facing an uphill battle. Nevertheless, there are actionable steps that you can take to advocate for yourself, make your voice heard, and move forward after a feeling of defeat.

Dr. Sonia Ashok, a Happiness at Work coach, lays out three steps to develop resilience in toxic workplaces: regaining control of the situation, practicing open communication, and reversing the negative self-talk. 

To regain control of the situation, remind yourself that you are only responsible for your own behaviors, actions, and reactions. If it seems like your boss isn’t hearing your suggestions, try verbalizing them in a different way, or include a trusted colleague in the discussion. 

Next, think about the communication between you and your manager. Have you expressed your needs and interests? When you feel a lack of transparency, be proactive about communicating your own thoughts and creating an atmosphere of trust. Set regular times where you can have 1:1 candid discussions about your daily tasks and long-term goals. For example, providing transparency for what you can control, including sharing your desire to grow in the division, while learning new skills through a temporary job assignment, is a positive step forward to show initiative. 

And finally, don’t blame yourself for the setbacks that happen at work. If you beat yourself up every time things don’t go your way, you may develop a fear of doing anything that may risk your ego. Instead, try focusing on what you can learn from each incident, and how you can move forward and grow. Write a list of all your strengths and accomplishments, and remember that there will be other opportunities in the future where you can shine.

Try focusing on what you can learn from each incident, and how you can move forward and grow.

Addressing a deep critical issue can be very scary. Once you work on improving your own handling of the situation, consider the advice of Dr. Bina Patel, Ph.D. and conflict resolution expert, on how to approach leadership with your concerns.

  1. Schedule a meeting with your boss. If you don’t feel this is an option, schedule a confidential meeting with your boss’s boss. This is your second-line supervisor. If you cannot trust either, then take an employee or friend with you as a witness.
  2. Document the date and time of all events — especially when you speak to your manager. In this discussion, ask for feedback on the process. Don’t bring up the job, focus on the process.
  3. Wait three to four days to ask for a follow up meeting. Take the extra time to get over any negative emotions you may be feeling. It will cloud your ability to think rationally and impact your judgement.
  4. Resist the urge to visit your human resources division! The function of HR is designed to do good by the company, not the employee. This avenue should truly remain a last resort until you are ready to exit the company. For leadership, specifically C-Suite teams, hiring a neutral third-party such as a conflict resolution expert may help to mitigate systemic issues.
  5. Let it go. Whatever response you receive, expect that it is a political issue, and move on. 

Systemic issues can be difficult to fix unless it is a priority to the leadership and an ingrained part of the company culture. If the situation gets worse and such behaviors continue, re-evaluate if your values match the company’s values. And if they don’t, start looking for another job!

Check out more SEEMA content, like Sweta Vikram on Letting Go

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