The business world is fantastic. It's also challenging. Over the course of your career, you'll face ethical, cultural, political, and personal dilemmas in the workplace. You'll work with difficult people. You'll find yourself in compromising situations. You'll have to balance who you are as an individual with what your employer asks of you.
Can you stay true to who you are without sacrificing your success? Absolutely YES.
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Workplace Feeling Toxic?

Workplace Feeling A Little Toxic?
It May Be Time For A Personal Detox

Sometimes your work environment feels toxic.
It's normal, and it isn't necessarily bad for you.
You may just need a little detox.

Have you ever had one of those days when you walk into your office and feel an immediate tightening of your chest? Your breath gets shallow and your jaw clenches a bit. You avoid making eye contact as you walk into the building. You don't want to force a smile - at least until you get to your desk and fully into "work mode." Sometimes these feelings start the night before, like the Sunday Night Blues as you think about having to work Monday morning.

The good news? This is totally normal. Everyone feels this way on occasion. The bad news? Some people feel this way pretty often. We tend to associate this feeling with having a significant amount of work piled up. In reality, this isn't a workload issue. These feelings come about when we're feeling some level of toxicity in our workplace. It may be our level of confidence in the leadership team, our relationship with our direct manager, or our interactions with co-workers. Usually it's some combination. Our comfort with the culture of our organization, how the company "works," also comes into play.

No question, some workplace environments are truly toxic and you should exit with haste. I'll talk about those in a moment. Most environments, though, are just challenging. Sometimes when the challenges pile up, it starts to feel toxic. You can certainly choose to bury your head and just tolerate it. You can also shake, rattle, and roll, and create all kinds of noise that won't serve you well long-term. Or you can choose to leave. I've done all three of these things at least once in my career. What I recommend? Do a little personal detox and see if your workplace doesn't suddenly seem far less toxic.  
How can you make a toxic environment... less toxic for you?
Truly Toxic vs. Challenging Environments

Some organizations have a truly toxic work environment. These companies foster a set of behaviors that create toxicity for employees, partners, investors, and customers.  Symptoms of a truly toxic environment include the following. If this describes your organization, you should consider moving on.

Truly Toxic:
  • Consistently unethical or illegal behavior
  • Widespread abuse and harassment of staff
  • Manipulative business practices
  • Dishonest and intentionally misleading communications
  • Excessively poor quality offerings
  • Customer complaints and threats
  • Rampant conflict among leaders and staff
You may read that list and think your company has one or more of those qualities. Before you label your company truly toxic, consider this. Think about the level of toxicity in a workplace as a gradient scale, or a study in extremes. As a point of comparison, let's look at the challenges faced by most companies at various times during their lifecycle.

Challenges That Can "Feel" Toxic At Times:
  • Poor or inconsistent communication
  • Unwillingness to make or keep commitments
  • Competitive interrelationships among leaders and staff
  • Open display of self-interest  
  • Lack of accountability and consequence 
  • Inconsistent recognition and reward
  • An overburdened workforce
Leadership teams are responsible for maintaining productive work environments that deliver solid results. Almost every successful organization is in the zone most of the time, delivering solid results and a positive work environment. It's natural, though, for challenges to surface over the lifetime of a company. Sometimes companies become toxic to varying degrees. Good leadership teams work to overcome these challenges. Good employees learn to succeed and be satisfied despite them.

The point here is that every work environment can become a bit toxic at times. A workplace is rarely without flaw. With any luck, your leadership team is committed to addressing challenges as they occur. Even if that's not the case, you can survive and thrive in the environment despite toxic challenges. You just have to commit to your own personal level of detox. This is important for two reasons.

First, you don't want to become part of the problem by becoming toxic yourself. It's not good for your performance or your career to adapt to a toxic environment by becoming toxic. Second, toxic behavior can't be limited to the workplace. If you become toxic at work, by default you become toxic at home. It isn't healthy, physically or emotionally, for you or those around you. 

So let's explore how to practice a little detox, despite the challenges you may face in the workplace.

Workplace Detox 101

Every workplace environment is challenging at times, and those challenges can pile up to feel toxic. How do you keep it from impacting your success and satisfaction? Here's my best advice.

1.  Assess Your Own Behavior.

Yep. It almost always starts here, whether we like it or not. The hard truth is that a toxic environment can change who you are and how you behave if left unchecked. You have to actively prevent a toxic environment from impacting you. The best way to do this is to evaluate your own behavior (rather than focusing on the behavior of others). That way, you can see the impact a toxic environment may be having on you... before it takes hold. Here are the biggest indicators that an environment is becoming toxic for you.

     Warning Signs That You May Need To Detox:
  • If someone asks about your job, is your response usually, "Ugh. It sucks."?
  • When you talk about your boss, do you use words like "clueless" or "stupid"?
  • Do you find yourself not trusting what people tell you at work?
  • Is your first reply about a change at work increasingly negative, cynical or sarcastic?
  • Is your effort decreasing; are you working fewer hours or with less intensity?
  • Do you dread going into work, not because of the work, but because of the "game"?

If you answered "yes" to even a couple of these questions, you likely need a personal detox. You can't be satisfied or successful at work if you're in this mindset over time. If you let it go too long, you won't easily find your way back to being a positive and productive employee. It will absolutely impact your performance rating, your salary, and your career path if you don't get back on track. 

By doing the above self-assessment, your first step to detox is already underway. Once you get real with yourself as to how a challenging environment is impacting your perspective and behavior, you're much better positioned to find your way back to a productive state. Watch for the signs and try to catch yourself behaving in ways that breed negativity. It isn't good for you or anyone around you. I've gotten better at this over time, but I also recognize that it's a runaway train if I don't pay attention. I encourage you to pay attention, now and over time. Don't let negativity gain a foothold and make you as toxic as your environment.

2.  Find Three Good Things.

It's so easy - for all of us - to focus on the negative. The reason it's so easy is because there's so much opportunity. There are usually many things that could be better in any workplace. Products, processes, and practices fail. Philosophies, perspectives, and personalities drive you crazy. 

You're not alone in seeing the madness around you. Your friends and colleagues pile on. Before you know it, pretty much everyone is stupid (except you), every decision is short-sighted, and every approach is destined to fail. (That may be a bit extreme, but I've seen it play out to this degree with myself and others on occasion.) You can become disillusioned, disappointed and frustrated at every turn.

The second step in a personal detox is to challenge yourself to see beyond the negative. The best approach is this: find three good things every single day about your work environment

You can start with your short commute time or great tasting coffee in the break room. Over time, you may graduate to the fact that you like your immediate team, or you admire the technical skills of someone in another department. Maybe you have humor in the office. Maybe you have a colleague who gets you and has become a friend in the workplace. Maybe your customers appreciate what you do for them. You may be gaining knowledge that makes you more valuable in the marketplace. You get the idea. Big or small, three good things can be identified most days.

This is hard at first and it feels a little fake, particularly if you're stressed or in a challenging environment. It gets easier though, and it's an effort worth making. Balanced perspective is always better than a one-sided view, regardless of where you start. The greatest benefit is that when you acknowledge the good in something, the bad is less bad. This is always true. Always. You don't have to hide from the bad, or pretend something isn't bad, to also see and enjoy the good. A toxic environment is less toxic when you let the sun shine through.
3.  Learn To Press Pause.

It may seem bold to say it, but I'll say it anyway. This is possibly the most important piece of advice I'll ever give. If you learn this, and practice it without fail, you'll be amazed at its power. It's particularly helpful when you find yourself in a toxic relationship, situation, or workplace environment.

Learning to "press pause" is best understood in context. Sometimes, another person says or does something that causes you to have an immediate emotional response. That response may be physical and involuntary:  rolling your eyes, touching your head, crossing your arms, or opening, raising or extending your hands in front of you. It can also be verbal:  a sigh, a pfft noise, or an immediate response of "No," "Wait," "What?!?", "How can you..." or some other instinctive reaction. 

These are very natural and common responses. They just aren't your best responses, particularly when you're in a toxic or challenging environment. It takes practice not to respond instinctively, especially because that is precisely what another person may be trying to draw out. 

You're not at your best when you react emotionally. Part of your personal detox when you're in a toxic environment is learning to control how you react to the stressors around you. If you don't react to toxic situations or people, you disallow them the opportunity to impact you.

Pressing pause is about buying yourself time to provide a tempered and measured response to a situation. Here are some specific ways to press pause in a given moment:
  • Pretend you're "observing" your exchange with the other person. It feels less personal that way. It's a subtle difference in how you engage and it's really helpful when you're under duress. Imagine how someone else would see your exchange if they walked by in that moment. 
  • When a toxic action is taken or statement is made, take a quick moment to think about what the other person is trying to accomplish. Is he or she just expressing an opinion that you find stressful? Are they expressing a truth you don't want to face? Are you being baited? Are you being tested? Is it intentional or unintentional?
  • Buy yourself time to consider how you really want to respond with one of the following techniques. You can say, "That's an interesting perspective." Or "I'm sorry. I didn't quite follow. Can you repeat that?" Or "Let me think about that a second." You can even say, "Why do you believe that's true?" Use every second of delay as time to consider how you want to respond.
  • Imagine you have a filter over your mouth. I mean this literally. Be careful about your choice of words and the aggressiveness of your position. Tone matters as much as words. You may want to trade "like" for "like." Just remember that you don't ever really want to say something toxic, even if negativity is directed toward you. You can think toxic thoughts in that moment if you want. Let your thoughts run wild. Just don't let the beast come out to play if you can help it. Allow your filter to stop you from saying something you know - before you even say it - that you shouldn't.
  • Your final thought before you respond to a stressful situation should be: How can I be productive? If you can't think of anything productive to say, finish pressing pause by saying, "I don't have anything productive to say. I'd rather not respond." It's incredibly powerful and usually stops a toxic discussion cold. You can also add, "I'll give our conversation some thought. I may come back with more perspective later."
  • If someone pushes beyond your pause and calls you out actively, stand firm. This is particularly important if a negative interaction is occurring in front of others. Your last resort can be, "I'm happy to discuss this topic, but I'd prefer to do it in a productive way. I don't feel prepared to have a productive conversation about it right now." Or "I'd like to take a little time to think about this. I'll come back to you shortly to continue the discussion if that's okay." Never easy, but always better than a toxic discussion if you can help it.
Now, pressing pause as I described it here may seem impossible to do in a mere few seconds. Trust me when I say that it isn't. This can all happen during a very brief pause with practice. If you want to be seen as a positive and productive force, in any environment no matter how toxic, this is a survival skill you should learn, practice and use. 

Your best detox is to avoid engaging in toxic activity around you. Sometimes that requires you to press pause. Try it for yourself. You'll see the power that comes from tempering your reactions and responses to the madness around you. On a personal note, every time I have the opportunity to do this and I don't, I regret it. 

Bottom Line

Almost every work environment can feel toxic at different points in time. Sometimes the challenges are small and just piling up; other times they're significant and casting a large shadow. Either way, you can survive and thrive in an environment, despite the challenges going on around you. Deciding to detox, regardless of your environment, takes a combination of awareness, fresh perspective, and new skills.

Take stock of how your environment may be impacting your thoughts, words, and actions. Challenge yourself to stay on a productive path by paying attention over time, watching for signs that you are becoming toxic. Don't let negativity gain a foothold in your mind. Recognize the good things about your environment. You may be surprised at how focusing on what's good, makes the bad less bad. 

Learning how to press pause when you find yourself in a toxic relationship, situation, or workplace environment is invaluable. It is the best possible way to avoid becoming toxic yourself. Filter your words before you speak and ensure your actions are ones you'll be proud of long-term. The best filter you'll ever have is your own sense of what it means to be productive. Anything that doesn't serve to move you or your company forward is likely non-productive.

When you learn to accept that every environment has its toxic moments, you understand the importance of adapting to the environment. You have the ability to protect yourself from being negatively impacted by the people and circumstances around you. Sometimes a little detox goes a long way toward helping you succeed in business... without eating your soul of breakfast.

More soon,

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