It’s going to happen at least once in your career, and probably several times: there is somebody at work whose bad attitude and worse communication skills are dragging down your performance, your morale, and the results of you and your team.
The sooner you learn how to deal with such a toxic work atmosphere, the sooner you can fix a bad trend – and feel an awful lot better about facing up to such a scenario next time around.
The good news is that it does come down to communication. So many bad atmospheres exist in workplaces because unspoken resentments or misunderstandings linger like a bad smell.
A great deal of professional and otherwise very talented people share one significant fear: they are afraid to talk. And when a bad attitude can be traced back to feelings of inadequacy or distrust, it’s no surprise.
This is why it is up to you to ‘be the bigger person’ and initiate talks with calmness, empathy, and assertiveness.
A telling-off, for example, maybe likely to alienate your difficult colleague more than ever. When raising issues with them, try instead to frame your observations as questions rather than accusations.
This gives your colleague the sense that they have a voice, and the opportunity to tell you how they feel – and why they feel that way.
If the office itself is starting to feel a little small with this thick, uncomfortable atmosphere, try having your meeting in a cafe or while taking a walk together.
Repeat back what they say to you to make sure you’ve understood them properly, and maintain eye-contact as a way of rebuilding trust.
But don’t be afraid to take control of the situation. You, too, can ask to have your points repeated back to you, to ensure you were listened to and understood.
And you will likely benefit from backing up the changes you’d like to see in your colleague’s behavior with targets you want them to hit or boundaries within which you expect them to behave.
You might want to double-check their expectations about what they are supposed to achieve and how they would like to be acknowledged are appropriate and, if so, that they are being met.
Clarity is key, and it doesn’t hurt to write things down as you go and type up the minutes afterward so that you have a document to refer to when it comes to the next review.
And when your colleague does improve, don’t be afraid to tell them so.
This fear of speaking-up goes two ways: we naturally want to protect our dignity by avoiding potentially embarrassing or troublesome situations.
You can begin to identify your toxic work atmosphere by checking out this new visual guide to workplace clashes.