It was some years ago now that I left a toxic work environment; one that wore me down every single working day, one that tried very hard to erode my self-worth, one that put me in a vice and continued to squeeze me until I had nothing left to give. This toxic workplace almost destroyed me… almost!
I strongly believe if you put trust in people, give them tools, resources and support then they will deliver if they feel appreciated and valued. Unfortunately not all managers are like this, unfortunately a lot of managers never get proper training and are never given the tools to truly understand how to get the best out of people. There are managers who believe through intimidation and abusing their position of power they will render results, often all it does is erode team spirit and instill a hostile environment.
Through my own experience of dealing with a bully and emerging the better person with my reputation still firmly in tact, the following are five strategies I adopted to navigate successfully through the minefield that became my workplace.
- Don’t let your emotion rule your actions. Always maintain your dignity, composure and integrity, be professional at all times within the work environment. If you feel everything is getting on top of you take time out and remove yourself from the environment, i.e. go to the restroom or get some fresh air to compose yourself.
- Listen to your gut instinct and trust it! It is often the sane voice of reason, it will alert you to anything that doesn’t feel right and if you trust it it can lead you away from danger instead of directly in to it.
- Have someone in your personal and work environment you can confide in and lean on. Don’t become that person who complains to anyone who will listen, be careful in choosing who you vent to. Make sure they are someone willing to listen, who are supportive and who can provide constructive feedback whist keeping your conversations confidential.
- Create a file and document everything! Keep a record of conversations, meetings, comments, incidents etc – the more detail you have the better, work on building a case against them that clearly shows their prejudice.
- As hard as this might be at the time, don’t let it effect the quality of your work, don’t give them any ammunition to use against you. Make even more of an effort to cross your T’s and dot your I’s, to deliver what is required of you in your work environment.
People bully because of their own insecurities, they use power and dominance over others to make themselves feel better. I learnt the best way to handle a bully is to be the smarter person, to act with integrity, to have a strong resolve when facing them and to only show your vulnerability to those who you can lean on for strength and support.
To stand up to a bully in the workplace isn’t the easies route, especially if that bully is in a position of power. It requires a lot of courage and it puts you under a lot of pressure and stress – you need mental toughness, you need to be thorough, well prepared and have a plan. It’s not about joining them in the gutter and getting dirty, it’s about staying composed and being smarter. If you do this successfully you can expose their hidden agenda and turn the spot light off you and onto them.
Depending on the situation and your circumstances, the best answer may be to cut your loses and walk away rather than go head to head with a bully. Although I choose to stand up to mine I by no means advocate this is the best solution for everyone. You need to assess yourself what is at stake, what possible ramifications can arise from staying put and addressing the issue head on versus getting up and walking away. The most important thing to remember, your health and wellbeing is what matters most.
I did end up walking away but it empowered me knowing I did it on my terms. I live a much more fulfilled life now, I live with passion and purpose and my work fits in around my personal commitments. This experience left me with the realization that with every negative there is a positive and opportunities come to us not just through the good times but also the bad. This experience fueled my desire to work for myself and to create an opportunity for other women to work for themselves, it gave me the drive to help share my learnings to inspire and empower other women.
Susan Stevens is the founder of New Zealand-based Meme & Co, a jewelry and accessories company with an innovative, woman-centered business model. She has over 18 years experience in sales, marketing and advertising, she climbed the corporate ladder and was committed to her career but her priorities changed when she had her children. Life became a struggle, trying to find a balance between wanting to retain her worth and independence in the workforce without compromising her ability to be a present and attentive mother.
Then, Susan made a terrifying leap – leaving a six figure income to no job and a big mortgage. With a very strong resolve never to go back to the corporate world, and through commitment, perseverance and a passion to succeed, she found as one door closed other doors opened. It was this journey that gave her the motivation and the drive to create an opportunity for other women who want to be in control, who value their independence, who want to be empowered. Her drive to keep a balance between work and family life ultimately resulted in `taking a leap’ into the unknown and embarking on a personal journey of self reflection, new challenges and growth.