Dealing with Difficult Co-Workers, Employees, Supervisors and a Toxic Work Environment

The wildly competitive coworker, the super stressed-out supervisor, and the emotional employee: three, of many types of people, who can make an otherwise great working environment extremely unpleasant.

You love your job. Well, you did. Until your co-workers showed their true colors.

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You’re actually thinking about quitting the job of a lifetime because the people you work with are imposing their negative energy on you.

I have two distinct approaches to dealing with them:

The Internal Approach and the External Approach

I avoid conflict. I don’t like being criticized or otherwise “told about myself” (rightfully or wrongfully so). I’m hesitant to address my problems with others by slapping them in the face with critical words. So the internal is my preference.

I believe that people are reluctant to change, and I doubt my little complaints about them will make much of a difference.

My solution to difficult people at work is to examine my part in the relationship and focus on some core truths.

The Internal Approach

I’m not under their control. I believe that I (read: God) is my source for good and no matter what they say or do. They have no true bearing on the outcome of my life.

They might think they can control me with words or threats, but the truth is, they cant. (They’d have to physically detain me or beat me into submission. And even using a violent approach, how much control they actually have is debatable.)

I might think they control me, but the reality is, that isn’t true. Even if they got me fired, or fired me, my future solely relies on the actions I take. I let go of the idea that they have power over me.

I’m in charge of my life. I can choose how I’d like to react and respond to them, and I can choose to respond in a way that does not engage on a low vibrational level.

I choose what I say and do.

I can choose to live in the moment and not carry around the emotional crap they dump all over the place.

 I can let go of my assumptions and expectations I have about my coworkers, company, and superiors because my assumptions and expectations are my own.  My assumptions/expectations about them contribute to my frustration/anxiety. Other people aren’t obligated to meet my expectations, nor fall in line with my assumptions about them.

Do I expect them to be honorable or act how would in a given situation? Have I acknowledged that their point of view (agreeable or disagreeable) is a result of their life experiences and values? Am I hoping they will change or act within my belief system?

This is unreasonable. They are different people who bring a different resume to the table.

I get frustrated and angry when expectations don’t match reality. By letting go of expectations and dismissing assumptions, I can see and respond to reality. My vision of the world is clearer.

I can choose to acknowledge their best self, which may be hidden under layers of pain, grief, disappointment, and other emotional wounds. I recognize that while they may not be presenting their best-self (read: God-like self) to me now (or ever), a best-self exists somewhere deep within them.  If I focus on their positive attributes, more of them may become visible.

I accept that this work environment may not be the best for me, (read: divinely appointed), despite what I (read: my ego) may think. I can stop fighting and forcing something to work when it isn’t. I can relax when I’m not fighting to force things to go my way. I can let it go.

I can hold steadfast to my inner peace. The negativity in my work environment, this person, and this situation do not have to latch onto me.

I do not have to dwell on problematic situations, replaying them over and over in my head. I can focus on existing in the moment, and on my peace. If my inner peace muscles are strong enough to hold me up, I won’t be blown over by what happens externally.

External Approach

The sort of self-reflection detailed above isn’t for everyone. My internal approach to dealing with external stimuli may not resonate with you. Some people, prefer to confront their discomfort with other people directly. I’ve seen or personally found the following approaches to be effective:

Set boundaries. Tell your boss or coworker to talk to you with respect- no more screaming, petty or passive aggressive comments and behavior.  Tell them you aren’t interested in hearing complaining all day. Tell them their hovering isn’t helping you be productive. Demand reasonable deadlines. Make an agreement on how you work best as a team. Respectfully, of course.

My husband won’t allow people to disrespect him in the workplace. If there is something someone did he doesn’t like, they are going to hear about it. Holding on to frustration, anger, and resentment because you’re too paralyzed to act will exhaust you in the long run. Address it.

We hear a lot about setting boundaries with your children, parents, spouse, and friends, but not employers.  Many people approach their jobs from a fear of being fired–a completely justifiable fear.

In this economy–from a capitalism standpoint–you are easily replaceable. Question the status quo, demand respect, your boss might just take advantage of that “at-will” clause in your contract and find someone more amenable to their approach.

But who knows? Your problem coworker or supervisor may respect your request, forever changing the dynamic of the relationship. This has worked countless times for my hubby and may work for you, too.

Transfer. If possible, request to work with another team, on another project or in another office. If you tried settling your differences with your stress inducing co-worker to no avail, and neither of you can see past the past, it’s time to for a clean slate in a new environment.

This doesn’t guarantee that you won’t find your new situation comparable to your old one. Sometimes the company culture fosters a stressful or hostile work environment. But not always. Sometimes you need a fresh start with new people. 

I did this, back when I used to work at a bookstore. Same company, but the team at one store was far more cohesive and friendly than the other. I went back to loving my job when I made the switch.

Quit. This option isn’t for everyone. Most people’s current financial situation doesn’t permit dropping their job like a hot potato. But if you can, do it. If you can’t do it right away, work towards quitting. Save money, look for a new job, start a business, whatever you have to do to regain control of your daily time, space and energy. It’s okay to leave your job.

The economic system in this country isn’t set up to protect its citizens’ mental, emotional and spiritual well-being at work. Life (maybe). Liberty (sure). The pursuit of happiness? (Only if we choose our own way instead of riding the rollercoaster of this economy.)

In capitalism, we are barely considered people– we are “human capital.” Chances are, your coworkers are victims of the system too, and their behavior reflects that.

Ever hear the expression, leave your personal life at the door? Honestly, that’s not realistic. People are people and they bring every ounce of their life experiences, attitudes, values, and emotions to work with them every day. What you see is a direct result of that–either consciously or unconsciously.

At the end of the day, you choose the environment where you show up every day. It’s your choice. Whether you stay or leave is up to you, and how you respond to the stimuli intent on bringing you down, is up to you.

Choose wisely.

How do you handle a stressful work environment? Leave your thoughts in the comments below

Three Ways to Live the Life you Want when You’re Broke & Unemployed

Aging GuitarOne potential problem of the long-term unemployed is that we face this dilemma: Everyday we have so much time that we truly could do anything we wanted, but at the same time, we are burdened with our “shoulds.” We should be working, we should be looking for jobs, should be updating the resume, should be networking, should be XYZ. I’ve been “unemployed” for almost a year now and I certainly haven’t done enough of the shoulds and I haven’t nearly gotten close enough to doing all of the things I want to be doing. What have I been doing with my time? I’m embarrassed to say, but I’ve been worrying too much. I could have been creating my my “perfect” life. I could have been working on tasks that would set me up for where I wanted to be today. BUT there is no point in harping on what could have been done. I can only move forward.

After an angry and frustrated emotional breakdown where I thought to myself, “What’s the point of living if I’m not going to do anything with my life?” I decided to just start doing the things I enjoy. I wasted a year NOT doing things I enjoy, why should I continue down that road? My time of extended unemployment will probably  be coming to an end soon so I might as well make the most of it.  I’m literally only  two weeks into “living the life I want” (of course with some financial restraints- but money isn’t everything and there are ways to do what I enjoy for free- thank you, internet), and I’ve been feeling better.  I’ve been pushing through lazy, and showing up when I don’t feel like it, and I feel like I’m accomplishing something.

My advice for the broke & unemployed:

Let go of who you think you SHOULD be. It’s a waste of time to live there. You’ll never live up to your expectations. For example: I want to get back in shape. Well in my mind, to do that, I would have to get up and workout at 6 or 7am (5 days a week, mind you), even if I have nowhere to be that day. WHY? I don’t know… that just seemed like what I SHOULD do. Now, I just work out when I feel like it. I pick whatever time is good for me that day and I go. Sometimes it’s in the morning and sometimes it’s in the evening. And you know what I found out? That the gym isn’t as packed as I thought at 6:30PM.

Find what it is you love, and find a way to do it for free. And don’t give me that crap about not being able to do it for free. You have plenty of time, dang it! Figure it out. Or maybe you can find a way to make a little investment in your “passion” by selling some junk around the house to save money. Free courses and materials at MIT anyone? CLICK HERE. (Obviously some are more “Free” than others, but still…) I bet you have a local library with books you can borrow for free (or already paid local taxes). Who knows? What you learn may turn into a useful skill set that you can use to generate income.

Stop giving a crap about what other people think about you. People have a lot of opinions to offer the long-term unemployed. Frequently, they add to the “should be” narrative. But they don’t have to wake up everyday and BE you. I’m not saying be reckless or ignore the people who care about you when they tell you you’re being reckless. What I am saying is you are not under a microscope and projected on a billboard for public display. We long-term unemployed people have a ton of time to examine, judge and sometimes envy what other people are doing. Just because we’re surveying everyone else’s actions, doesn’t mean they’re surveying ours. Besides, you don’t have to advertise to everyone what you’re doing. That’s just wasting energy, anyway.

Here are some motivating articles to kick you in the butt. Read them!

The African Way- Just Do It

The Myth of Passion and Motivation: How to Stay Focused When You Get Bored Working Towards Your Goals

Slow-Paced Careers

The American workplace simply isn’t cut out for stress-free, slow-paced living. Yes, you can argue that how you perceive and respond to stress plays a big role in how a job feels, but it is unlikely that you’ll find a slow-placed, low-stress career working for somebody other than yourself.

Employers, by their very nature have needs, and as their employee, it is your job to take care of those needs. They are not paying you to take care of your needs. They are not paying you to move at your pace and enjoy life on your terms. Companies are set up to serve the needs of the owners and/or investors, etc. You and I, my dear readers, are just the cork in the wheel of big business.

Think about it: if you are the manager of a company, does it really matter if your employee needs to take a day off because her car breaks down? And her kids got sick? And her kids got her sick? And a relative passed away? And her menstrual cramps hurt so badly it renders her incapable of working for a couple of days? No, you just need her to come into work because you have to answer to the higher-ups. You need someone who will do the job, regardless of what’s happening at home. Business is so impersonal, that if an employee has too many personal problems, she will be let go for not prioritizing her commitment to the job.

How many times have you heard bosses say, “Check your personal problems at the door?” If you are going through a divorce, is your boss’s request truly realistic?  Regardless, the business just needs somebody who will work like an unemotional machine that just needs to be oiled a couple times a day (15-30 minute lunch breaks, anyone?)

I remember working a variety of different customer service jobs and the feeling was this: if you want to earn more money or get a promotion, you must come-in early, stay late, work through lunch and come in on your days off to prove your dedication. You had to forgo all needs in your personal life if you want to get ahead in your career. That is not a slow-paced career.
Now, if the job is your company, you care about the company’s needs. Sure, there are limitations, because of client obligations, but you can always delegate…

A slow-paced career to me, is working when you want to, and not working when you don’t or can’t. It’s not always that simple when you own your own company, but you have significantly more flexibility when you can decide to work between 7am-9am (or 7pm-9pm), in your pajamas, from your couch. When you own your own company, you are the boss. By that virtue alone you can eliminate people and situations that cause frequent stress. Do you have a client that stresses you out? Break-up with them. You don’t need their business. That energy could be better spent finding new, less stressful clients. Do you have employees who are lazy, annoying, or poor communicators? Let them go.

Furthermore, you don’t have to prioritize your “business” over the rest of your life. You don’t have to convince anyone of  your dedication to the company by working unpaid overtime. The business is your baby, of course you love it, but if you need a personal day, you can take one; you can organize your schedule around the way you work. Also, you don’t have to run your company like a mega-corporation. You can create a work-life balance for your employees and provide a slow-paced and low-stress environment.

Now as important as it is to me to own and run my own business (aka do what I love), I’m in a financial situation where I need to work for somebody else. Thus, I find jobs that fit within the parameters of what I enjoy doing.   I like working with kids; I like reading and talking about literature, so I’m going to teach English a high school in the fall. It’s not really a “slow-paced career,” but I’ll have some flexibility as to how I run my classroom so that it suits my needs.

Anyway, I recently found out that the school where I work pays an extra $5000 a year for teaching an extra class period and not taking a planning period. I don’t know if it’s optional or not, but if it is, that money is incredibly tempting if you start to think about what it could pay for. Nonetheless, I think it’s foolish to take the extra money over the extra time. (I nearly always pick time over money.) See, by taking the planning period, there’s an extra 5 hours per week (where you have to be at school either way) to grade papers, create lesson plans, and deal with all the other administrative stuff that comes with being a teacher. If you don’t take the planning period, you end up spending those 5 hours teaching and making more work for yourself, i.e. more papers to grade. That’s a total of 180 hours during the course of the school year that will move into your personal time. Yes, you might need the money to pay for some things, or support a one-income household, but forgoing planning period will burn you out so quickly. You could get sick and have to spend the extra cash on medical bills for a stress-related illness. I think there are ways to cut expenses so you don’t need that money. In the end, you’ll have more time for yourself.

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Don’t you realize, the whole point of having a job is so you can buy stuff to keep your employer in business. Why do you think we got extra tax refund money the last few years? So we could “stimulate the economy” by buying stuff.

You may not benefit your company directly with your expenditures, but your spending will find a way to benefit them. For instance, lets say you work as an claims adjuster for a car insurance company. The money you earn there seems as if it can in no way benefit your company. However, you bought a car didn’t you? You are required by law to insure it, aren’t you?

Buying things keeps us permanently enslaved to our jobs. I’m always looking for a way that I could live exclusively off of part-time income. Unfortunately, my student loans won’t allow me to do that (a story for another time). But the money I’m not spending on an iPhone (or iPhone data/cell plan) and lavish television services, saves me money at the end of the month. Imagine what I would add to my expenses if I had a car payment?

I guess I just want to conclude by saying this: There is no one fits all solution to a slow-paced / low-stress career working the night shift as a security job. For others that might mean substitute teaching (no papers to grade).  A slow-paced career may mean not taking on more than you can handle in your present position. For me, that means working for myself and choosing “writer/editor/blogger” as my career.

What slow-paced job do you have? How do you keep your current job from becoming too stressful? 

Why I’m Giving Up Online Shopping for Lent

So lent started last week, and the only thing I gave up was giving unsolicited advice. An awesome pursuit, as I can become a better listener and mind my own business. Except, my boyfriend said, “why don’t you give up something hard?”  I hadn’t really thought about it much until I went to Amazon.com yesterday to look for a canvas tote bag.  And that’s when it hit me. I’m going to give up online shopping. I think I have a borderline addiction.  It started a few years ago when I didn’t have a car and I needed to furnish my apartment. Or if I needed to buy something really large and heavy and didn’t have anyone to help me pick it up and carry it to my apartment.

UPS is good at transporting and delivering items for me. Amazon Prime is amazing. I have free two day shipping, but it’s become more of  problem than something that helps me. Because as I look around my apartment, I see that almost everything I own was purchased online.  Nowadays, I buy things online for one of these two reasons: #1) I don’t feel like dealing with the world (which means Miami traffic/people/a gazillion stores); or #2) Amazon has a better selection and it’s cheaper.  But what I’ve come to realize, is that the quality of the items I purchase cant be inspected through a computer screen. Furthermore, I’m less likely to purchase something or spend money on something if I go to the store and look at it– more than often than not, I don’t like the item.

Benefits of Giving up online shopping for Lent:

  1. I’ll learn patience: waiting until items go on sale, waiting in line, waiting to find the perfect item.
  2. I’ll  spend less, because I know sure as heck I’m not going to feel like going out to the store. And I’ll  think twice about buying things IF the only way I can get them is by going out.
  3. I’ll be more aware of what I’m spending: for some reason when I buy online it hardly feels like I’m spending money. Money disappears faster than I realize.
  4. I won’t buy crap I’m not going to use.
  5. Any spring cleaning I do won’t be wasted- I won’t be filling my house with anymore crap from Amazon.

Career Choices

I have talked very little about my career choice since starting this blog.  I know I’ve mentioned becoming a teacher in my “priorities” blogs, but I’ve questioned this career choice since I majored in elementary education for 2 semesters back in college.  I keep coming back to it though; I don’t know if that says something.

Career choices overwhelmingly influence how you spend your time, how exhausted you are, and how slow paced your lifestyle will be.  Teaching is a great slow paced career because you most likely get summers and major holidays off from work. I love the whole concept. Yes, you bust your butt 9-10 months out of the year working with students.  It is a great career for anyone who likes the idea of built in breaks.

And it’s a great career choice for me because working with kids is rewarding (even though it is exhausting), I love reading and writing, and staring at a cubicle in a windowless office all day is a miserable endeavor. I planned on easing into teaching and getting more experience by becoming a substitute teacher first.

Yet, the certification tests, fingerprinting and all of the other requirements seem daunting, and every time I seriously start thinking of teaching as a career I freak out and back away.

Last night, however, it occurred to me that I need to get a full-time job pronto. I’m 25 (about to be 26) and I haven’t had a full time job since I first graduated college in traumatic 2008. I’ve only had two full-time jobs (ever) and both laid me off in less than 4 months.  The summer of 2009 I started my part-time job hopscotch.  Needless to say, I’ve been rather pessimistic about the job market.

I’m still not sold that a full-time job is the way to go in terms of the slow life. Full-time jobs may provide some benefits (literally), but I’ve found that full-time fosters an overwhelming commitment to work. There is nothing wrong with loving your job or enjoying what you do, but I know people who answer work emails, call into meetings, and tell people to call them when they are on vacation.  I don’t want that.

That doesn’t change the fact that I’ll need the full-time income come January.  Mistakes in my past require me to work to pay for them.  And I didn’t pay for grad school with cash, either. I’m going to have to suck-it-up and work a little more than I’d like to for a while.  I will not, however, work myself into complete exhaustion. Hourly, wage jobs seem to encourage that.  The best thing I can do is minimize consumption of goods and services, and maximize my saving potential.

So, I came up with a solution to my “I need a full-time job” problem:  First what I’ll do is get work as a writer.  I should have no problem finding a “writing job” because my master’s degree is in, you guessed it, writing. After I’ve settled, I’ll slowly obtain the requirements to become a substitute teacher. That way, I can work on them when I have time, not when I’m focused on other things.  Once I’ve fulfilled all of the requirements, come November after I’ve defended, I can look for a part-time substituting job. The idea would be, by January, to earn full-time income by working both jobs part-time.  I like the variety it provides.

Both career options offer flexibility.  Substitute/full-time teachers are off in the summer and during holidays, and writers can often work from home.  I get the best of both worlds…

Sorry about the super late post everyone.  It seems I may have too much on my plate and need to cut back even further. New changes in my life coming about soon.