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Work relationships work for those who work on them. What’s working for you? Your work might be stimulating, provide good pay, benefits, and promotional opportunities.  Great! But most people don’t work in isolation.  I’ve known many people who love the work but have challenging co-workers who gossip, send mixed messages or exclude them from conversations. That’s a toxic work situation and it doesn’t feel good.

Why do co-workers exhibit toxic behaviors? Doesn’t everyone want to be in a pleasant work environment? The answer to the first question could be insecurity, envy, poor interpersonal skills or bigotry to name a few. The answer to the second question: yes, everyone wants a pleasant work environment, yet they contribute to office toxicity. I believe when people feel threatened, they lash out and seek to remove real or perceived threats. Your response to the situation depends on how pervasive the negative behavior happens to be. If it is peer to peer, you have one set of options. If the boss is aware but tolerates it, you have a much steeper hill to climb. If you feel that the boss is the source of your discomfort, get out gracefully. (I’ll talk more about appropriate responses to toxic office politics next week.)

When I started coaching, my goal was to help individuals navigate polluted political waters. I don’t believe anyone should suffer day after day in an unpleasant work environment. I will continue to help individual employees, but can be more effective working with leaders or preferably the whole leadership team, which will give me an opportunity to purify the political waters.  

 If you’re the boss you have a much better chance of changing the culture and you should. If toxic behavior in a workplace is left unchecked, it will spread and kill the organization. The only remedy is strong positive leadership. The key word is leader not just a boss. You might have been promoted because of your technical skills and efficiency, but social skills and emotional intelligence are much more important the higher you climb the corporate ladder. Change your thoughts, change your destiny!