How to avoid toxic triggers at work: Four steps for survival

As small businesses and startups proliferate, so too do toxic behaviours.  Whether we’re talking SMEs or global conglomerates, all too often, excuses are made for toxicity.  Not even volunteer organisations are immune.  No matter if we’re doing it “for the good of …” or because you and your shareholders are focused on profits, poor boundary-setting and insufficient articulation of do’s and don’ts enable breeding of toxic and stressful behaviours.

If you’re keen to avoid becoming “infected”, or getting stressed you can adopt these four steps for survival.

1. Be like David Attenborough

This maestro of biology observation would never dream of rushing in and advertising his presence in places where humans constitute lunch.  We see the finished televised product of course, borne of patient, sensitive behaviour around animals’ habitats.  Attenborough is wonderfully calm and his professionalism enables us to learn so much more about the beasts and birds in question.

Emulate Attenborough in your work or volunteering capacity by treading carefully and studying your fellow beasts’ habits and needs.


2. Focus on facts and make notes

This is essential if you want to progress matters and take some responsibility for the outcomes.

Make detailed notes over time and then use them for reference in discussions with the offending person (or the person in charge), focusing on specific feedback about what is and is not acceptable.  Keep the language as neutral as possible.  Don’t let feuds develop.


3. Neutralise venom

Arguments and personality clashes are inevitable in toxic organisations, especially when the leadership is inadequate.  If your cortisol levels dramatically rise when forced to be involved in conflict, it is best to go somewhere private.  Scream (or whatever releases your tension), take some deep breathes and / or speak quietly to someone you trust and whose opinion you respect.  Make a point, though, of not endlessly going on about the problem. Don’t resort to political assassination attempts either.  Discuss ways to resolve the problem. Take a deep breath and move forward.


4. Achieve a mini goal

Overcome your own frustration by immediately achieving a mini goal or completing a task of your own. This helps put matters back in perspective.  Ensure that others know about it if you find it necessary to stay motivated or simply do it for your own sense of control.  Repeat the prescription until you glimpse a more rewarding outlet for your talents.


Immunity to toxicity comes at some initial emotional cost. But you can control yourself when you cannot control others!

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace. See the rest of Eve’s blogs here.


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