How To Survive A Toxic Workplace.

Once you’ve diagnosed if you are working in a toxic environment — see my last post — there are a number of ways to deal with it:

  1. Leave.
  2. Stay and move to another team/department/division/location.
  3. Stay and endure.

It’s that simple. Choices #1 and #2 deal with the situation most effectively, they remove you from the environment and allow you to begin anew.

Today, let’s look at choice #3. At least for the short term (hopefully!) you need to stay where you are and contend with the forces making each day painful.

Step One — It’s Not Me, It’s You.

You need to get your head wrapped around the idea that it’s not you. You are not incompetent, crazy, unprofessional, or whiny. It’s the situation around you. Acknowledging this first step will be a major change in your demeanor.

When we are in a toxic environment, we tend to constantly question ourselves. We doubt our decisions, actions, management, interactions, communications — everything.

A toxic workplace’s first rule of order is to get you to doubt your abilities. Why? You become passive, you don’t fight, you give in and ultimately, you start questioning your abilities and ultimately feel like a failure.

Also, you feel that you can never leave, because you don’t have the chops to make it anywhere else (for the same amount of money). That's a form of 'golden handcuffs'.

Step Two — Develop An Action Plan

As I always say to my clients, get it out of your head and down on paper. You need to think clearly about yourself and your situation. Once you’ve come to the conclusion that ‘it’s not you’, you need to document what elements of your environment ARE toxic.

Is it your boss? Is it your peers? Is it management? Is it another department that is asking outrageous requests? Pinpoint the WHO and WHERE. This will allow you to define the specific influencers causing the toxicity.

Then under each one, define WHAT do they do. For example, you can write, “My Boss — she is condescending whenever I’m around and adds snarky comments to whatever I do.”

Then define HOW you will diffuse the toxicity of their behavior/attack. This leads me to:

Step Three — Choose a Judo or Jujutsu Technique

What is Rich talking about? Let me define each one:

Judo - Immobilize or otherwise subdue one's opponent with a grappling maneuver or force an opponent to submit by joint locking or by executing a strangle hold or choke.

Jujutsu - Manipulating the opponent's force against himself rather than confronting it with one's own force - "gentle, supple, flexible, pliable, or yielding."

I want you to execute your action plan. When they encounter you — be prepared to either:

Engage (Judo) Stand firm with your position and explain its merits. Don’t back down. If you’ve done your homework, you know the who, where, what and how to diffuse them. Hold your ground — you are the strong one — they are the incompetent one. If it is a boss or other management, hold your ground and then at the last minute, do the Jujutsu sidestep (below). If you do this on a regular basis, they will know that you are a force to be reckoned with.

The phrase 'Ask forgiveness rather than permission' works well here. If the toxicity is at a high level — do what you need to do (ensure that it is the right thing to do) and then ask forgiveness.

Sidestep (Jujutsu) Use the person’s force/weight against them — give them enough rope and then pull the rug out from under them by using facts. They might try to fall back on emotions (“This is how we’ve always done it!”) — but you’ve done your homework. This works especially well with peers.

Bottom line — these tactics work in the short run. Again, you need to either leave the department or leave altogether. If the toxicity is endemic — you will never win.

What other tips/techniques have you used in your fight against toxic environments?