I know a lot of people struggle with “toxic coworkers”. I see it all over social media, in support groups, and in regular day to day conversations. I’ve been known to struggle with it myself. We seem to be able to handle incredibly demanding work but the idea of someone else not acting how they should gets us all stirred up emotionally. It overshadows the other aspects of the job.
If left unchecked, the energy from these negative people can obliterate the joy of work.
And maybe it comes in waves. They do something horrible and you feel yourself seething (while still doing the aforementioned incredibly demanding job) and now the job seems harder. Even when you don’t have to deal with them for a while,when you get a respite, their energy remains, humming in the background, like storm clouds in the distance.
So even when they’re not there, they’re there.
And then something else happens and the next wave of negativity comes crashing down on you.
Definitely sounds like somewhere I would want to spend most of my time.
But here’s the good news. Their energy can’t stay behind without them. It’s your energy that has been triggered, been activated. Why is this good news? This is not a “blame the victim” situation, this is a “you have total control” situation.
You can feel however you want, despite them. Your energy is ALWAYS yours.
This takes some discipline though, and some willingness to be uncomfortable for your long term happiness. It takes the same commitment (and maybe pain) that it takes to get in shape, or lose 20 pounds.
But the results are just as guaranteed.
These are the questions that will get you going.
Are you willing to give up the label “toxic”? (Feel free to insert your own equally poisonous adjective here.) Now I can feel the resistance come up. “But they ARE toxic!” I am just asking if you are willing to give up the label. This is a really important step even though it seems arbitrary. It may make it easier to remember that regardless of what you label them, they are just a person acting in a way that you don’t approve of.
So back to the label. When we call someone toxic, even in passing conversation, it sets off alarm bells in our brains. Our brains are programmed to look for danger. By labeling someone “toxic” we are telling our brains to focus there. WHAT?!?!?
Think about this for a moment and you’ll realize that I’m right. When a toxic person affects you, you think about it all day long. You ruminate. And then, even when you just see them walking down the hallway, YOUR BODY FREAKS OUT. Even seeing them sparks the fight/flight response. You feel your heart racing or your face flushing. You react to the danger...the danger that you potentiate with your language of “toxic”.
It’s ok. No judgement here. We all do it.
The first step is to just stop calling them toxic, easy enough. Try it, it will get you to the next step which is a little tougher.
Are you willing to give up the judgement of that person? Not because they deserve it (that is a different discussion) but because it will help down-regulate your nervous system. It will make YOU feel better. It will take away the drain on your energy, the energy that you need to do the incredibly important work that you do.
Are you willing to not complain? Again, maybe complaints are justified but that’s not the point. The point is YOUR happiness. And this step is a tough one because it feels like you are doing all the work and the coworker isn’t changing at all.
This is exactly right.
And it’s perfect.
The coworker doesn’t HAVE to change at all for your life to be better. If you are willing to prioritize your own health and wellness over the importance of complaining.
Again, this isn’t a judgement. It’s a life’s work. There are some days that you will be killing it and other days that the old habits pull you back down. But like any other work, it gets easier and more habitual with practice. It won’t be this hard forever and the gains are amazing. It’s the squats and push-ups of self help. It doesn’t seem fair. It may feel incredibly painful. But you will feel amazing on the other side. I promise.
The answer to this final question may be a resounding “NO” right now. It’s a hard one to ponder and honestly, sometimes we need to work on the first 3 for a while before we can consider this one.
Are you willing to give up caring how coworkers “should be”? (Hint: they are going to be whoever they are regardless of if you care.)
Can you get to the point that you can deal with your own thoughts that they should be different? Because the truth is, based on your self-standards, these thoughts are not going to go away. You may always think that they shouldn’t be acting the way that they are. Can you deal with your own discomfort with these thoughts? Can you mitigate the discomfort by knowing that you get to let it go, let them be however they are (since we don’t actually control it anyway), and you can still be totally ok?
They aren’t toxic. They are different than you. They cannot control your thoughts or actions even though it may feel that way.
Can I do my job to the best of my ability even if their ineptitude makes it harder? (I love the word, ineptitude.)
Would I be happier if I stopped arguing with the reality that people are going to act how they want, not how I want them to act?
Sit with those 2 for a minute. Focus on who YOU are not who they are.
I want to be happy at work. I do not want to take on the drama and energy of other people. I want to control how I feel.
And just like them, I get to be however I want.
Does this resonate with you? Come on over and follow me on Facebook at NursingBeyondtheJob.