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Don’t Wait For Others; Be The Change

Unmanaged conflict can result in feeling trapped and miserable at work, caught in negative looping relationships that are tit-for-tat, ripe for escalation. We hope others see our misery and come to our aide. Usually, though, no one comes. And there we sit, stuck in the mire.

What happens when you’ve run through the usual conflict resolution steps (getting specific about the behavior you’re having a problem with, self-reflection, being curious, holding a difficult conversation, listening, being empathetic, etc.) and the unhealthy relationship with a co-worker(s) or boss persists?

#1 Address your feelings

How do you feel about this situation? What need do you have that is not being met? 

Your mental health is of vital importance, vastly more important than where you currently work. What I’m about to advise in no way advocates stuffing your feelings down. Quite the contrary. It is important to be in close communication with your feelings. Acknowledge them. Feel them. Address them. Your anger, sadness, loneliness, and the like are not “bad,” but reasonable reactions when our basic, and universal, needs are not being met – or worse, trampled.

Learn to notice, regulate, and care for your emotions. Speak regularly with a trusted mentor or therapist, focusing on productive venting and the future of possibilities where you find ways to get your needs met.

#2 Develop a Five-Year Outcomes Plan

What are your career goals? Where do you want to be in five years? Thinking about the future can help pull you from the tyranny of the moment.

When we are caught in a conflict or toxic situation, it can feel all encompassing and unending. Gaining a view of where you want to be within five years, and then developing a specific and realistic action plan, can offer insight about your current work environment.

How can you leverage your situation with that high-conflict individual or chaotic environment to assist in creating your envisioned future? With a view toward what you want to accomplish, your attitude and actions will change, pulling you from focusing on the injustice of your current situation towards working for your long-term goals. When our mind shifts, our actions follow.

#3 Develop a Microculture

In the last chapter of Amy Gallo’s book, Getting Along: How to Work with Anyone (Even Difficult People), when all else fails, she advises people caught in difficult work situations to create a microculture. Building on the work of Annie McKee, Amy Gallo writes, “Rather than allowing toxic relationships to dominate your work experience, determine what you need to be effective and happy in your job and then build a coalition of people who are committed to similar goals and values.” (P 244)

Armed with your future goals in mind, work to create a microculture that supports your values and goals and the healthy goals of those in your organization. How?

  • Expand your workplace network by finding and regularly meeting with people in your organization who have similar values to talk about the future and support each other in accomplishing goals.
  • Look for people to mentor and find a personal mentor.
  • Start a “Solutions League” where people come together to brainstorm to solve problems.
  • Start a book club, coffee club, lunchtime walking club, or any “club” that is forward looking, proactive, and focused on being brilliant employees and doing excellent work.

You do not have to stay stuck. You can, today, begin to create your own healthy microculture through your mindset, actions, and interactions with others.

#4: Decide to be the change you want to see

Instead of waiting for your boss or co-worker to create the environment in which you thrive, do it yourself. Do it for others. YOU set the standard. YOU treat others excellently. Create the culture You want to be part of.

Your new goal is to shift your focus away from the toxic work environment to how you can treat others, including yourself, excellently. This is not about denying disrespectful behavior, but rather about where you choose to spend your time, energy, and focus. Other people’s underdeveloped emotional intelligence is about them, not about you.   

Excellence comes about through acting intentionally. Pay close attention to your actions that bring about a work environment where people thrive, such as being listened to and included, clear and direct communication, setting/noticing/maintaining boundaries, and treating others with empathy.

You are a strong and resourceful person. Decide to throw the old playbook out that says, “I am powerless because X is disrespecting me.” Instead, embrace radical kindness and professionalism. Create a new way of being that is large enough to include even those you find difficult.

Light breeds light. People are drawn to those who are life giving and affirming.

Do excellent work. Speak up for yourself and others. Build a new network – one built on supporting one another in and outside of work. Life is short and hard.  Don’t give your difficult boss or co-worker the power to determine your mental state, choices, opportunities, and future.

What I’m advocating is not easy. It won’t happen overnight. That’s okay. We are all works in progress. And so I charge you, work towards something new. You do not have to take the world as presented to you. YOU can be the change we all so desperately want you to be.


Merry Brown

Merry Brown owns and operates Third Party Workplace Conflict Restoration Services, hosts the weekly podcast Conflict Managed, and is a transformational consultant for The TCM Group based in London, England. Merry is passionate about training and empowering employees and businesses to deal with conflict swiftly and justly, with a win/win… MORE

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