Workplace politics are tough to follow. But working in a toxic workplace is hard to deal with. Sometimes you might feel like you’re living a nightmare. Every day you have to go to a workplace that simply poisons your life. There are many ways this can happen. And there are solutions to a toxic workplace. Just keep reading.
#1 The land of miscommunication
There’s always potential for miscommunication at the heart of any team, so don’t be surprised if you accidentally set foot on this land too.
Oftentimes, miscommunication is the result of personality clashes, power issues and lack of clarity. Sounds familiar? OK, since solving personality clashes and power issues is not entirely up to you, let’s just see how lack of clarity affects your work and what can you do overcome this.
When roles and expectations are not clear, team members tend to withhold information. It doesn’t even matter if they do it consciously or unconsciously. What matters is that you have to dig for information which should be on your hands in the first place. You might take the time to investigate, but that will inevitably affect your deliveries. Or you might resort to working with assumptions, which will inherently lead you to making errors of judgement, affecting the quality of your work. Because assumptions come with a lot of misinterpretations and misunderstandings.
Apart from that, when it’s not clear that everyone can speak equally, some team members will be eager to “own the show.” Due to this habit, some team members, including you, might feel reluctant to communicate freely. In such a context, people are less likely to give honest input and ask questions for clarification, simply because they fear overstepping boundaries. And we all know there can’t be (personal or team) progress where censorship occurs.
When it’s not clear what is expected of you, instead of fumbling your way through, ask questions again and again. If your work depends on other people’s input, ask for feedback as often as necessary because feedback is not a courtesy, it’s a responsibility. Insist on it and, with perseverance, team members will adjust to your “work” rule. One piece of advice: if you credit team members for their feedback, in time, they will be more open to have their say and share what they know.
More and more teams rely on instant communication platforms to help them maintain transparency over workflows and work information, but also build and sustain a culture of collaboration.
Your team may not have such a platform in place just yet, but that doesn’t mean you cannot personally inspire people to share their bright side of things as well as their doubts and fears. Lead by example, and your teammates will feel encouraged to do the same, and thus harboring open communication.
#2 Big-ego micromanagers
You know them. They’re closer to you than a thermometer. Every single step of the way you have them there, grooming your every breath.
And they love nothing more than detailing every single aspect of how you should do your job. Imagine getting one of those 4,000 words emails, with a list of items you need to cover. Each of them painstakingly detailed. And leaving absolutely no room for any thinking. And it gives you goosebumps, feeling the long claw of this corporate puppeteer. Sometimes you might even wonder if it would’ve been quicker for them to simply do it. Just carry out every single task instead of bothering with all the formatting.
Telling them anything about this will crack a thin shell. And it will reveal a furious and confused little bird. Still not ready for leadership. Still reminiscing about the safety and stability of your role.
It’s a personality call. Some people like being micromanaged. In a sense, it’s almost like getting your boss to be a personal assistant. Or a secretary. Or both. Think about it. Your boss keeps your agenda, updates your to-do list, makes sure you’ve got everything under control. They’re like a life coach, only that at work.
To most people, however, this is rather mind-numbing. But two can play that game. Start waking up at 5. Prepare your plan for the day, with loads of details about what you’re going to do. Be proactive. And anticipate everything your boss might ask.
#3 The workplace saboteur and the back stabber
Imagine your first raise discussion is coming up. One of your supervisors asks you to do something. They explain, succinctly, that you are to go to a certain institution and file some documents. And you need to pay a certain tax, calculated per word count. Your documents, however, are bilingual. So you ask your supervisor and she explains that you should be able to figure it out on your way. So you go there and pay the tax for the entire word count, just to be sure. When you get home, your boss invites you for a meeting. This meeting has the purpose to explain your stupidity, credulity or incompetence. You get burned and there’s no more raise to be discussed. Next day, everyone acts normal.
Congrats, you’ve just been sabotaged. I heard this story in my first week at a new place, soon after my first interaction with the saboteur. What’s worse is that unbeknownst to me, I was interacting with a backstabber. You know, that co-worker that’s eager to befriend you from the very beginning. Only to present regular reports to the boss, potentially modified so that you sound at your worst. Imagine how toxic that is.
Don’t react. And don’t take revenge. Also, don’t become paranoid. In fact, don’t even worry. Everything happens for a reason. Next time, check every step of your way. And check again. You can’t know why you’ve been sabotaged. It could be that someone wants to take you down a peg. And that someone could be a supervisor or your boss. Yes, it would be great if teamwork would simply… work.
Workplace toxicity ruins people. And it spreads like a parasite. So make sure you won’t let yourself turn into either of these two archetypes.
As for your current situation, letting someone feel like they’ve won is tough. We all find it tough to accept such treacherous defeat. It’s unfair. But try and let it slide. After all, where is it that you win the most? Is it by playing out this silly game? Of course not. Most of where you need to win is somewhere else. Your work is something you can do for a variety of reasons. You can love your work. And you can enjoy your team. Or you can figure out you’re interested in something else. Either of these is fine. Starting a war you can’t win isn’t.
Overall, try and stay away from workplace toxicity. If you can’t, simply get better with work conflicts. After all, you either take it, fight it or leave. But remember that you deserve better than what poisons you.
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