Character disturbance of various types and degrees is commonplace, so there’s a pretty good chance you’ve encountered someone at your place of employment who makes your working life difficult. From the covert aggressors who back-stab, undermine, or vilify you for their own gain to the more overt aggressors who harass and terrorize you, disturbed characters can make anyone’s working environment so toxic that it takes a significant toll on a person’s mental, emotional, and even physical health.
Because the holiday season can be an especially stressful time anyway, things can get very rough indeed if you’re in a situation at work where you have to deal regularly with a character-impaired co-worker, supervisor, or even boss. Naturally, as I advocate in In Sheep’s Clothing, you’ll want to keep a keen eye your own emotional “buttons” and vulnerabilities and use the “tools of empowerment”. But work situations often present unique challenges. There are times when your options are limited as to how you can reasonably respond, and disengagement isn’t always possible. Still, there are some things you can do that just might help save your sanity:
Seek out and nurture sources of support.
- Sometimes it might seem you’re all alone in your plight. There’s nothing like dealing with a difficult situation to make you feel isolated and alone. But the reality is that at least some others you work with are likely to understand and identify with your situation. Nurture relationships with those who share your values and appreciate the support you could give to one another. Now, we’re not talking here of forming combat alliances, pitting yourself and your group of allies against your foes. Rather, we’re talking about fostering solidarity and finding a source of strength and reassurance among those who share your concerns.
You don’t have just sit and take it when you’re being undermined, scapegoated, vilified, harassed or otherwise poorly treated. Address your issues and concerns directly but also calmly and without hostility. Honor your principles and stand your ground. Pick your battles carefully, however. Some things aren’t really worth going to the mat for. But don’t let every little thing slide, either. Disturbed characters love to victimize those they perceive as weak, and you certainly don’t want to be perceived as a doormat or easy prey. And when you’re confronting those creating difficulties for you , focus squarely on the issues of concern. Leave sentiments and personalities out of the discussion. Making it about “them” is a sure recipe for resistance and possibly even reprisal. Make sure it’s not personal but rather about the behavior. Focus like a laser beam on the specific things the person does that creates the difficulty. If necessary, bring your allies to the table when you address the issues. And as I say in In Sheep’s Clothing (in one of the 12 “tools of empowerment”), always do your best to keep a level head. Confrontation is always the most effective when there are no other issues (e.g., emotional responses, defenses, personal affronts, etc.) drawing attention away from the problem behaviors.
Stay true to yourself and your values.
- Don’t be tricked into the idea that you can “play the game” or somehow out-manipulate or outfox the disturbed characters among you. You might be able to do so for awhile, but that strategy is doomed to fail in the long run. Besides, it’s not good for you to betray the kind of person you really are. Always be the person of integrity you envision yourself to be. In your dealings with others, even the character-challenged, be above-board and genuine (besides, it really makes the disturbed character’s nature stick out like a sore thumb!). And above all, don’t count on others to value your efforts to maintain your integrity or to recognize you or reinforce you for it. Any affirmation really needs to come from you (I talk more about the importance of this in Character Disturbance).
Always have a “Plan B”
- Some workplace cultures not only tolerate but also encourage or even reward character dysfunction. And while it’s always possible with sufficient supportive alliance and a lot of persistent effort to eventually re-shape a culture, sometimes such an undertaking is not really feasible. This is particularly true when your boss or supervisor is insensitive to character issues or perhaps has a character dysfunction of their own, or there is strong organizational culture support for or enabling of character dysfunction. So you need to have other options at your disposal, including the option of leaving for a new and hopefully different working environment. And keep in mind the risk you always take when you put yourself in a position of excessive dependency, including undue dependence on any particular job or position. Don’t put yourself in a situation in which there is no possible “plan B.” Make sure you hone the necessary skills and know the employment landscape well enough to be able to make a move if you have to do so.
- I’ve got some more to say on this topic, but I’m quite sure the readers have experiences they could share that would make the discussion more informative and helpful.