At some point, we end up working with or for someone whose behavior undermines our success. They make you question your value to the team and wear you down emotionally. You start dreading going to work, passing them in the hallway, or just seeing their face. You dream about the day they're fired or quit.
They're toxic contaminates. Manipulative liars with massive egos who pick favorites. They micromanage, backtrack on promises, and throw tantrums. They spread fear and corrupt others around them. They're abusive bullies who are overly critical and try to take credit for your work. Threatened by you, they try to sabotage your career by throwing you under the bus or ignoring you. Deep down, they're extremely unhappy so they inflict their dysfunction and misery on their colleagues.
Don't allow yourself to become collateral damage. Whichever toxic category these employees fall under, it's unhealthy feeling you're surrounded by chaos and enemies. If you can't cope and maneuver around them, you'll compromise your mental and physical health.
Here are four tips to help you manage the daily stress. Your goal is to outsmart them and not empower them to take you down.
1. Ohm...Relax, Relate, Release!
You won't weather the storm if you don't implement strategies to lower your stress and anxiety levels. Your head needs to be in the right place before you can attempt to outfox a snake. Begin by making a conscious decision to stop giving them any additional power over you. Don't allow them to dictate your emotions. Reclaim control over your feelings so you can't be manipulated.
If you need to go for a walk, then do it. Listen to music that gets your head in the right frame of mind. Meditate. Do breathing exercises. Smile. Start your day singing to yourself. Refuse to be unhappy and decide your own mood. Disappointment in life is inevitable, but misery is optional.
Find what works to calm you and clear your head. It's just a slice in time and you will get through it - especially if you're in command of your feelings and stress.
2. Pick Your Battles But Don't Be a Pushover
Learn to let go of things that aren't important in the long-run. When you're dealing with unscrupulous people, it's not worth the energy to engage with them on every little thing. You will only drive yourself crazy. Let them feel like they have control even when they don't. This will stroke their ego. Prioritize what you need to push for and what's insignificant.
When dealing with important issues, that's when you should advocate. Not sweating the small stuff doesn't equal letting someone walk all over you. It means you should stand up for yourself in a professional manner and stop stressing over irrelevant trifles. Set boundaries and know what really matters. This way, you will recognize when it's time to lean back or push ahead.
3. Document Everything in Writing
You never know if you'll need backup and evidence. Get as much in writing as possible. This is especially critical if you're not in a toxic environment, but a hostile one. If you're dealing with dishonest people, you need to document everything and create a paper trail. Write yourself emails and memos after critical discussions detailing what happened in meetings or any incidents. Send these to your personal email account as well. Avoid discussing important topics exclusively in person. Try to get things in writing too.
Send emails to your colleagues after meetings that summarize what was agreed to, who's responsible for which tasks, and next steps. Make sure you don't include people who don't need to get these emails - and blind copy (or "BCC") your private email account when necessary and if this won't raise red flags with the IT department.
Keep the message concise, professional, and to the point. If you can include a few extra points about your contribution without seeming like an obnoxious self-promoter, then do it. You could also add fluff about "the team" and positive thoughts about a colleague. You have to play the game until you're ready to show your cards.
When you're in a very stressful environment and they're trying to show you the door, make sure you keep a file.
Print your emails and have a hardcopy at home. Just make sure you aren't violating company document retention policies so they won't claim you took company property by keeping documents or emails at home. If you decide to secretly record any conversations, you need to check the law first. Places like New York allow secret recordings, but California requires that everyone consent to being recorded. The same goes for phone conversations - the state with the stricter rule trumps.
Remember the best way to counter any Machiavellian plan to eliminate you is to strategize. You need to plan and prepare so you're always two steps ahead of your opponent. If it gets ugly, there's nothing like blindsiding people with hard evidence. Even if you have to leave the company, you might force them to write a check on your way out.
4. Know When It's Time to Exit Stage Left
Whether you're in a hostile work environment or you're just tired of people who don't support your success, you need to know when it's time to walk away. Know when to let go. Not every situation is workable and sometimes no tactic can salvage a bad situation.
But don't quit. Instead, work quietly on your exit strategy. Network. Apply for other jobs. Leverage your current position to land a better one. If you're fortunate, you can negotiate your departure with a payout while simultaneously lining up your next position.
At the end of the day, life is too short to allow annoying people to get under your skin or control your future. The only thing you can control is yourself and how you behave and respond to circumstances. Be in control of your destiny and know who you're dealing with so you have the upper hand.
Who knows, maybe you won't have to leave in the end. Toxic people have a way of rubbing everyone the wrong way. Their influence can be fleeting. Once the tide turns and new leadership comes in, arrows from everyone they've burned could hit them in the back. Just make sure you're not standing too close to them so they go down without you.
The Azara Group (TAG) is a consulting firm that promotes the development of leaders in an increasingly competitive and diverse marketplace - providing strategy consulting services and leadership training services to advance professional and life success. TAG leverages expertise in career strategy, diversity, negotiation skills, and business acumen to provide strategic advice and consulting services to help people and organizations get what they want, achieve their goals, and advance their business and career objectives. TAG also helps companies better attract, retain, and promote diverse talent, and develop robust diversity platforms and strategies to create a more inclusive workplace.
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