Workplaces can be complex and challenging organisms to navigate. Dominated by us ‘mere humans’, they are fraught with human error and personal baggage.
This is inevitable.
But let’s not panic, nor try to fight against this inescapable reality. Instead, let’s learn to sit with the discomfort this can bring – at least temporarily – while we find ways to traverse the sometimes-tumultuous terrain.
Most of us are imperfect beings (although I’m sure there are those who believe they are indeed perfect – and power to them!). We each have varying levels of knowledge, skills and abilities. And all we can do is continue to strive for improvement – to stay on course with our journey of personal and professional development.
Common goals aren’t always enough to keep you afloat
We are bound together at work around a few common goals and ambitions, whether it’s earning a living, pursuing our passion, or chasing a career objective. This sees us placed amongst a diverse range of people who bring with them a variety of views, behaviours, and experiences not always like our own.
Naturally this bears challenges. Challenges ranging from miscommunication, minor debates and misunderstandings, to major conflict and unfortunately – workplace harassment and bullying. These sorts of situations can leave us feeling unheard, confused, undervalued, frustrated, stressed, disillusioned, disengaged, and even experiencing symptoms of anxiety, depression, or trauma.
Generally, people don’t go to work expecting these sort of encounters – but given the diversity of humans gathered together in one place – shit is gonna happen!
You don’t have to be up the creek without a paddle
So what can we do to try and minimise the level of shit at work?
The good news is there are things you can do to try and prevent getting in too deep. While not a ‘cure-all’ for every shitty experience you will ever have, here are a few essentials that ought to form the basis of your working life – if not life generally.
This is the first and most important thing – and I mean really listen. Get to know your staff, colleagues, and leaders. Actively listen to them with an open mind, genuine curiosity, and an empathetic ear. This doesn’t mean you have to be their new bestie, or get all ‘up in their business’. But taking a little time out to really listen to someone can demonstrate you care about, and respect them as an individual (even if you don’t, be professional and try!). This also helps you gain insight into how they think and their preferred working style – invaluable understanding to support you in your interactions, communications, and decision-making processes.
You know from your own experience that when you feel respected, heard, and understood, you are generally more responsive, motivated, and willing to engage with others to achieve mutual outcomes. Do yourself a favour at work and afford others the same courtesy – and I mean everyone. Upwards, downwards, sideways – we all deserve the common decency of being heard. Now I concede this won’t always be reciprocated or enough on its own, but at least you are role modelling professional and preferred behaviour. This basic yet fundamental approach should prove helpful most the time, but when it doesn’t you should rally support. We’ll come back to this later.
Given the importance of this skill, I recommend checking out more about active listening, so take some time later to look at this information from: MindTools.com (2016). Active Listening: Hear What People are Really Saying [Online]. Available from: https://www.mindtools.com/CommSkll/ActiveListening.htm
Employ self-awareness. Know your priorities, values, professional requirements, and limitations. Know where your boundaries are, both personal and professional, and be willing to assert, uphold, and protect these. This is something we often don’t think about until a situation is upon us, testing our boundaries. There’s been quite a few times I’ve found myself reassessing my values and priorities due to workplace developments testing my resolve – pressing me beyond my boundaries – and I only realised once I started feeling stressed and uncomfortable. Listen to your body, your gut – trust your instincts. Your body is letting you know when you are stepping outside your boundaries.
Note – not every step beyond your boundaries is bad for you. It may be a positive occurrence that will stretch your ability and help you to grow. But if it is challenging your values in a way that feels wrong; makes you feel sick with anxiety, guilt, or shame; is leaving you with sleepless nights or distress at the thought of going to work – check in with your boundaries. You will sense the difference between a positive challenge of personal growth, and a negative breach of your values. But if you’re still feeling confused and not sure – call me! That’s what I’m here for ♥ Together we can explore what’s happening for you and what you can do to feel right again.
This is a balancing act of sorts. While you need to be clear and assertive around your boundaries, you also want to retain some flexibility allowing yourself room to move depending on what the situation requires. But by utilising your self-awareness, you will have a solid understanding of where your lines are and just how flexible you are willing and able to be. Whatever the scenario, stay true to yourself. You will only bring yourself further pain and discomfort if you flex so far beyond your boundaries that you can’t even see the line anymore and no longer feel authentic in your behaviour and interactions with others. No job is worth sacrificing your sense of self, values, or integrity!
I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence. – Frederick Douglass
Muster the courage to tackle difficult conversations or conflict head on – and sooner rather than later. Avoiding these situations only serves to make things worse. Believe me, I know! I have spent many sleepless nights rehearsing conversations in my head; questioning myself and whether I’m overreacting; doubting my feelings and evaluation of the situation at hand. But you know what? Until you take the plunge, have the conversation, and find out for sure, this is often a lot of ‘worry for nothing and get stressed for free’ (sorry – bad Dire Straits pun!). It may indeed be as bad as you think (and on a rare occasion, worse) – but it may not. It might be a simple misunderstanding or miscommunication that can be straightened out pretty quickly with some solid listening, understanding, and compromise. If it is bad (or worse) and more than you feel able to handle – refer below to Get Support.
Calling on your active listening skills and maintaining professional boundaries are paramount in these instances. Take the time to understand and acknowledge the points of view of others, but keep the conversation within appropriate limits. By demonstrating empathy, yet remaining clear on boundaries, you put yourself in a better position to engage and mobilise others towards a compromise or preferred pathway. Yes, getting started can feel uncomfortable, but you will be surprised how much better it feels after having ‘laid all the cards on the table’, getting a clearer understanding of each other’s thoughts and feelings – even if you disagree – at least now you know where things are positioned.
Emotions have the potential to intensify during challenging conversations, and of course within conflict – from all parties (remember – none of us are perfect). Try to stay self-aware and regulate your emotional reactivity. Breathe. If you feel the conversation is escalating beyond a point of being constructive, take a break and reschedule to resume when everyone has cooled off. Elevated emotions interfere with rational thought – that is to say, most of us can’t think logically and clearly when we’re upset (it’s a fact) – so take time out if it’s needed.
Being brave and tackling a challenging conversation will not always be successful when deeper issues are at play*, so be prepared to call on support to help you navigate and manage more challenging situations as required. The best you can do is gather the courage to get the process started and be clear in your communications – keep clarifying the communication exchange throughout to try and ensure everyone is on the same page and understanding the other’s point of view. You won’t know if things can be improved if you don’t try – and you absolutely need to try because avoidance is simply not a professional or practical solution. You owe it to yourself and the organisation to try and tackle these challenges as they arise. Willingness and effort go a long way whatever the outcome. But NEVER be afraid to call in the cavalry when professional assistance is needed. There are lots of support options out there, such as your Human Resources (HR) department or Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). Start here but don’t stop until you find what you need.
*There can be many reasons people have difficulty managing their behaviour and emotions, learning new behaviours or communication approaches, or comprehending another point of view. As far as practicable, communicate clearly, maintain your boundaries, practice compassion, and seek support. Sometimes you simply can’t do more than this, and a positive outcome for all may not be achievable.
TAKE CALCULATED RISKS
Avoiding risk can lead to immobilisation – leaving you frozen in your decision-making and unable take action. Consider what is within your power to change, both within the confines of your role, and on a personal level. What are your options? If you’re not sure – find out. Do some research. Ask questions. Weigh up these options. How do they stack up against your personal and professional boundaries? Discuss it with a peer, a mentor, or a professional. Then make an informed decision, take a calculated risk, and act. You may not know what outcome the risk will bear, but you will have made a considered choice. If things don’t pan out as you would have liked, another decision can be made. There is always another path upon which to progress.
You may decide taking no action is in fact the best decision – just ensure this decision has arisen from your research, consideration, and exploring available options – not from fear, denial, or avoidance. If you avoid making a decision (a decision in and of itself), or your decision is inaction, you need to be prepared to accept the status quo. And that’s fine. Just remember – ‘Nothing changes if nothing changes’. And in my books, you lose the right to complain about a situation you are unhappy with if you are not prepared to at least try facilitating change. Tough love, I know ♥ but I’m not here to tell you what you want to hear – I’m here to tell you what you need to hear! Your efforts may not always produce the change you desire – but as I’ve said before – you won’t know if you don’t try.
The biggest risk is not taking any risk… In a world that is changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks. – Mark Zuckerberg
It’s important to remind yourself of your worth and abilities at times when you are feeling undervalued, confused, stressed, or disengaged. Wherever possible, refrain from comparing yourself to others. We all have different experiences, knowledge, and skills, and we all have something worthwhile and unique to offer. Try not to allow the situation at hand, or how others do things, to affect how you feel about yourself or your achievements.
This one is tough – it’s one I still find challenging at times (yes, I’m human too!). I still have to reign myself in from comparing myself to others; thinking I ‘should’ be doing something more like someone else; or I ‘shouldn’t’ even be attempting this at all because I’m never going to be ‘as good as them’. But a very wise woman once said to me, “stop ‘shoulding’ all over yourself”! I know I cannot be everything to everyone. And I also know that what I offer is unique to my experience, knowledge base, and skills, and will be a good fit and beneficial for many. So this becomes my mantra and I return to it frequently.
So remember, you are not the sum-total of this job or current events. You consist of infinitely more! Get back to basics – remember your values – consider your priorities – focus on your passions. Concentrate on your strengths and accomplishments to date, then explore what you might like to build on to make you feel even stronger. Find your mantra – what is true about you and encourages you when you’re feeling low? There will be something – there is always something! So find it – use it. And if you’d like a few more tips on building confidence, check out my free eBook.
Unicorns don’t exist, but integrity and accountability are real
All in all, it’s hard to find a workplace where everything is ideal… the elusive employment utopia. Actually – to be honest – it is an unrealistic expectation.
But we can strive to improve and contribute towards making our work environments better places to be. An especially important endeavour given the amount of time we spend at work.
While we may not be able to control the many different circumstances that unfold at work, we are absolutely in control of our reactions, responses, and how we choose to participate. We hold individual responsibility to always try and facilitate a positive outcome – to make a positive impact with our actions. We all have a role to play at work – and we are all accountable for improving the work environment – not just for organisational efficacy, but to maintain our integrity and peace of mind.
If you are experiencing challenges in the workplace and would like support, OR if you are considering a career change and would like professional coaching, then please get in touch – I’d love to help.
Do you need a friendly ear to help you process your thoughts?
If you need practical support to get you through a difficult situation or to help you navigate life’s bumpy roads, get in touch for a FREE 20-minute consultation to talk about your needs. You can book your free ‘Welcome’ consultation with me at a time that suits you, simply drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org I’d love to hear from you ♥
I am a qualified Social Worker with over a decade of experience helping individuals to successfully transition through life changes, overcome obstacles, and increase self-determination. Get your FREE eBook: 5 Steps to Bring Your Confidence out of Hibernation, by clicking the button below.