Think about that one person who just always pushes your buttons at work. You know who I’m talking about? Many people love the work they do and the people they work with, and good for them. But, usually there’s that one person who just drives you crazy. A lot of times it starts to feel like there’s just nothing you can do about it because the person is just toxic, the environment is just unhealthy, and the only option is to leave.
That is not the only option. I want to tell you about the one small thing that could make a huge shift in resolving the conflict. You might have tried everything before and found no solutions, but I have seen this work with myself and my clients over and over.
Molly worked in a large office at a marketing firm. Her boss was a loud, volatile man who had a very particular idea about the work he wanted done. The problem was, he wouldn’t always communicate what he wanted very clearly. Molly would do hours of work, only to watch her boss have a tantrum about how she got something wrong – almost always because he had miscommunicated. Even worse, sometimes he would talk behind her back to their assistant and the assistant would come tell Molly what he was saying.
Molly felt anxious all the time and didn’t know what to do. It felt like both her boss and the assistant were conspiring against her and creating a toxic work environment.
Sound familiar? Many women who have careers in traditionally male dominated fields have experienced this kind of volatile behavior, but it doesn’t mean we have to leave our jobs in order to be safe – even in order to feel emotionally safe.
The one thing we can do to clean up conflict with a person we think is toxic is to keep expecting them to behave the way they’ve always behaved. That’s it. Assume they will keep doing the same thing. Almost always the biggest source of conflict in a situation that feels unhealthy is that we are expecting the other person to change. It is also one of the most dangerous things we can do because it makes their behavior a surprise every time.
If we embrace reality, and allow them to keep acting the same, we can ask ourselves, “How do I want to respond to a person who does this?” Instead of being caught up in thinking her boss should not yell, Molly could move on to solving the problem, “How do I want to respond to people who yell?”
That lets her set a boundary and consequences for violation of that boundary. It lets her say, “When my boss yells, I go to Starbucks and charge it to the office,” or “When my boss yells, I leave the room and take the rest of the day off,” or whatever feels like taking care of herself in that situation. When we are caught up in our instruction manual for how people should behave and what they should do, there are two people trying to manage their behavior and zero people taking care of us.
Accepting that people will continue to behave how they have behaved in the past sets us free from that. It lets us take care of ourselves, instead of having to control them in order to create a safe environment.
More power to you!