Rising Above a Toxic Environment

Rising Above a Toxic Environment
by Angela Fieler

I went to the grocery store this morning and noticed something strange. Everybody I crossed paths with was looking down at the ground and their body language screamed defeat. Ever the optimist, I tried my best to make eye contact and elicit a smile, but to no avail. How could people not find a reason to smile on this glorious morning? It’s 78 degrees, the sun is shining, and there’s a beautiful breeze. The shelves are well stocked, the produce is fresh, and the staff are cheerfully helping at every turn.

My life isn’t perfect – it would take no effort to begin an endless litany of complaints. It also takes no effort to recognize what is good in my life – I have a husband who loves me unconditionally, a fulfilling job that I love, and two imperfect children who are loving and caring human beings. If I didn’t have even one of those things, would I be part of the downtrodden masses entering and leaving the grocery store?

How to Lift Your Outlook in a Toxic Environment

I certainly coach enough people who have worked or are working in a toxic environment. How have I helped them lift their heads and their outlook? While there’s no silver bullet or single strategy that works in all cases, there are some that work in most cases. The first is to set boundaries based on your values: your job description, your capabilities, and your capacity. Some people have difficulty saying and hearing a direct “no.” I suggest responses like:

  • “I need help understanding how that request fits in with our value of [integrity].”
  • “I need to spend time with your go-to person for this type of work to get up to speed. Who is that?”
  • “Right now, my number one priority is [x]. I expect to be able to shift my focus in another day/week. How does that work for you?”

The second strategy is to improve your self-talk. Make a list of things you know are good at. If you’ve been working in a toxic environment for a while you might need to pull out old performance evaluations, awards, and thank you notes to remind you. You might also have to talk to others outside your organization. When you are clear on your strengths, it helps you take ownership of the things you control and to let go of the things you don’t.

If you are currently weighed down by an unhealthy work environment and can’t see a way out, consider investing in yourself. Call Baird for more information on our coaching services and take the first step to rise above what is currently dragging you down.

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