Copyright 2013-2022 | Marcus van Wyk | All Rights Reserved

Many people can’t leave toxic workplaces and the individual reasons for that are plentiful. One reason is that some people don’t have the ‘financial support systems’ just to throw in the towel and quit.

A toxic workplace is an environment that has developed, for many reasons, considerable conflicts between those who work there. This type of environment, if you allow it, can be detrimental to your wellbeing, or you can make an informed choice to manage and leverage it to your advantage to improve yourself and prepare for when better opportunities arise.

You don’t have to become collateral damage in other people’s war, but also, you can’t completely ‘withdraw’ and stick your head in the sand by engaging only certain people. A work environment is not like a social environment, where you have the relative freedom to choose to whom you will speak and by whom you want to be surrounded. At work, you have to speak to a wide range of people, whether you like them or not, who are interlinked with you to achieve productivity. You can’t avoid them, even those who will gladly throw you under the bus. It is what it is.

So how do you leverage this toxic workplace to your advantage and be the best you can be?

 A couple of things to consider:

  1. There will come a day when you can leave, but until that day, you must find a way to grow stronger and healthier rather than becoming a heap of exposed nerves.
  2. You should consider every day in that environment as a learning experience of how things should NOT or COULD be done. When you eventually leave, you will take with you skilled experience, and not personal baggage. When you get to the next job and they are also toxic, you can then know what to do.
  3. Personal development does not always take place in ‘happy’ environments.
  4. Self-confidence, courage, and the ingenuity to think calmly, critically, and clearly will be profoundly useful.

Here are four things to start doing to help you grow in your present environment.

1. Develop your SELF-AWARENESS – By becoming more familiar with your personality, values and beliefs, as these shape the way you interpret events that occur around you and, consequently, the way you tend to think, feel and act in response. Self Awareness will keep you present with the role feelings are playing in your decisions, behaviour, and performance. When we are not self aware, we are often disconnected from this influence.

Start doing this: Adopt a self-reflective practice (Journal or diary) where you regularly reflect on the way you are thinking, feeling and acting at work. When doing so, it is important to consider how your thoughts, feelings, and actions are both serving and limiting you. Ask yourself why you are responding to things the way you are; what impact are you having on others? Why you’re acting the way you are; and how you could respond differently.

IDEA: Want to develop your emotional intelligence? Here is a great assessment that can help you grow.

2. Develop your AWARENESS OF OTHERS – By making time to get to know those you work with in more depth, exploring, for example, their values and beliefs, personality, and topics like what they are enjoying and finding challenging at work. When you demonstrate this skill effectively, you come across as being empathetic rather than insensitive to the way others feel.

Start doing this: Try to adjust your energy, tone, body language, and decision-making so that it is more in line with that of those you are interacting with. Where appropriate, share stories of similar situations and feelings you have that reflect understanding and empathy for the feelings of others.

3. Develop your AUTHENTICITY – By thinking about the time, place, and situation you are in. Blunt expression can result in defensive, attacking, or withdrawal behaviour in others. People high in authenticity are often described as ‘genuine’ whereas people low in this skill are often described as untrustworthy’.

Start doing this: The first step in facilitating challenging conversations is to plan. Define the outcome you want and plan how to achieve it. Brainstorm how to position the importance and purpose of the discussion, the feelings you want to express, the questions you are doing to ask and the statements you are going to make. List any actions you would like to take or see others do.

  • A good flow to a challenging conversation is:
  • Position the purpose and importance of the discussion.
  • Express how you feel.
  • Ask for the other person’s thoughts and feelings.
  • Brainstorm actions that could be taken highlighting win-wins.
  • Summarise the actions to be taken and the timeframes in which to take them.

4. Develop your POSITIVE INFLUENCE – By demonstrating a positive, energising demeanour, and helping others apply problem solving and perspective taking techniques. Positive influence is about positively influencing the way others feel through problem solving, feedback, recognising, and supporting others’ work. It involves creating a positive working environment for others; helping others find effective ways of responding to upsetting events; and effectively helping people resolve issues that are affecting their performance.

Start doing this: Some people just need to ‘vent’ their issues, while others are looking for ideas on how to succeed when faced with a challenge. Responding effectively to others’ feelings is often context specific. When others say how they are feeling, make statements that reflect what you have heard. Use clarifying questions if you are unsure or unclear of how others feel. Where appropriate, share stories of similar situations and feelings you have that reflect understanding and empathy for the feelings of others.


Marcus van Wyk