Dr. Bob Wright | October 26, 2016

How to Handle a
Hostile Work Environment

So you’ve decided to embrace the power of positive thinking. You’ve learned of the paradigm shift a positive outlook can bring about, and you’re ready to bring the change into your life. 

Unfortunately, your coworkers seem to have missed the memo.

Whether your office is experiencing a “case of the Mondays” or worse, it can be deflating and defeating to work in an environment where you’re constantly battling the negative vibes of others.

Now, it is true that people complain and vent at work. It creates a sense of camaraderie and a shared experience. Sometimes it can be an attempt by your coworkers to make small talk or simply connect.

Even if those around you seem to feel very strongly about their negative complaints, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re terrible people or even bad employees. When we’re invested in what we’re doing, we’re going to feel strongly about things. Emotions go into our work and when we’ve poured in our blood, sweat and tears, we can be easily wounded, frustrated or upset simply because it’s so important to us. Our work and our careers can be a big part of our identity and how we see ourselves. This doesn’t make for light emotions.

However, some people just bitch to bitch. It has nothing to do with them feeling strongly about their job or caring too deeply. It’s just that they feel like “harshing your mellow” and raining on your parade. Your positivity might rub them the wrong way or they may simply be someone who hasn’t realized their negative words and thoughts lead to more frustration and sorrow.

The first step in how to handle a hostile work environment is to separate the naysayers and Negative Neds and Nancys from the truly hostile, toxic people. There will always be complainers, and while they might be frustrating and annoying to deal with, they generally aren’t out to make your work environment intolerable.

Dealing with Complainers

When you’re faced with a Dan or Debbie Downer, try to shift the conversation. Focus on having more meaningful interactions with them. Offer to grab a cup of coffee and lend them an ear. Remember conversation is about give and take.

Ask your coworker, “What did you do this weekend? Why was it so great?” Conversely, if they say, “Thank God it’s Friday—this week can’t be over soon enough,” ask them, “What’s been so bad about your week?” Sometimes, when they start to articulate all of their complaints, they’ll have a change of heart. You might hear, “Well, actually it wasn’t so bad, I’m just looking forward to something exciting this weekend.”

Suddenly the conversation has gone from a litany of complaints to a meaningful connection focused on positive activities and excitement about the future.

Try to see the truth in who your co-worker is, and realize they’re a person who wants to be heard and understood. Maybe they just don’t know how to express things in a positive way or they see co-conspiring as a way to build a connection. Find a way to connect beyond the collusion by looking at them a little closer, and listening to what they’re really hoping to say.

Embracing Your Own Positivity

Lead by your example. One of the easiest ways to keep focused on the positive is to BE positive. When someone begins the transformational growth process, they often start with initial bravado and enthusiasm.

Even in a hostile work environment, you don’t have to be “fake” or pretend everything’s great to work on your positive mindset. It’s still okay and even healthy to acknowledge you feel fear, sadness or frustration. Those emotions, while negative, need to be expressed as well.


“When fear is allowed to operate beneath the surface, however, it does the most damage. When people quit things it is often because they fail to acknowledge and deal with their fears so they rationalize instead. Typically, they approach new activities brimming with confidence and even cockiness—generally a sign of someone not listening to their fear. They communicate that they’re ready for anything, be it a new job, new school, or even a marriage—that they have no anxiety about what the process requires of them. As much as their gung-ho attitude provides them with initial positive energy, this energy can easily turn negative. It begins to sound an alarm in their unconscious mind, warning them about taking risks, about trying new activities, about pushing themselves into areas where they aren’t skilled or comfortable.”

Transformed! The Science of Spectacular Living


Acknowledge your truth and the spectrum of emotions you might be feeling, but approach experiences as growth and learning opportunities. View each situation as a chance to learn more about yourself and to get closer to your goals and vision. See your fear and harness it rather than avoiding it. Rather than setbacks, look at obstacles as opportunities to reroute and discover even more about yourself.

Dealing with Toxic Coworkers

Even those of us with the most positive intentions will now and again run into people who are just downright toxic. These people, try as you might, just refuse to connect with you, engage or move forward. What’s worse, they might even be thwarting your attempts to grow or do your work. They can make your job downright miserable, and certainly contribute to a hostile work environment.

When you’re dealing with someone who’s truly toxic, don’t be afraid to confront the issue. Surprisingly, sometimes bringing it out on the table and saying, “Look, I feel like you’re angry with me or I’m rubbing you the wrong way. This is what I want to get done and where I’m trying to lead us. Explain what you’re trying to get done and let’s see if we can find a way to get on the same page.”

If they balk at the confrontation or continue to try to sabotage you and throw you under the bus, don’t let your negative coworker throw you off course. Keep your communication with your boss and leadership strong and open. It doesn’t mean you need to “tattle” to your boss, but if a toxic coworker has become more than just an annoyance, there may be formal complaints and other management interventions needed.

In most cases, however, confronting the person and letting them know you’re feeling upset, picked on, bullied or otherwise annoyed with them can help you get things out in the open so they can be addressed. Sometimes they might not even be aware of how bowled over they’re making you feel or how their hostile attitude is affecting you and the team. Bringing it out into the light is the first step to resolving the issue.

Keep your interactions at work focused on the “big picture.” If you steer off course, always bring it back to your personal vision and how it aligns with the vision of the leadership in your organization. Look at the good you’re doing within your workplace and how you’re helping others and making the world a better place. If you can find the good and positive in your job, it will be the silver lining to make each day (even Mondays) better.

For more on how you can move forward in your life with positive intentions, please visit Wright Living. Find out how you can transform yourself and those around you by bringing more light and goodness into the world. Be your best self!

About the Author

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Dr. Bob Wright is an internationally recognized visionary, educator, program developer, leadership and sales executive, best-selling author and speaker. He is a co-founder of Wright and the Wright Graduate University.


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Wright Living is a division of the Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential, a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.

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