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Toxic Coworkers? 4 Simple Steps to Create Protective Boundaries + Thrive

Well, hello and welcome to the Boundary Bootcamp Season. Today’s blog has been taken from my 6 weeks series to empower you to up your boundary game! Let’s start this week’s episode with a few questions. Do you work in a toxic work environment? Do you work with a toxic co-worker or perhaps you are suffering under a toxic boss? Also if you work in an office filled with drama, even if you’re not directly in a war with someone, the negativity still impacts you. And maybe it’s not all that dramatic at all and you simply have a coworker who is nosy about your personal life or overshares about his or hers. At the root of all of these scenarios is a lack of effective boundaries.

So in this week’s episode, I am sharing four simple steps to create healthy boundaries at work, even with unhealthy people.

A toxic work situation can present in many different scenarios usually marked with a fair amount of drama or infighting. And even if your intention is to, “leave work at work,” try telling that to your central nervous system. Pervasive conflict, bullying or harassment of any kind, not only negatively impacts productivity, but creates stress and anxiety AND can activate unresolved childhood wounds. Since many of us spend more of our waking hours at work than anyplace else, it is imperative to get clear about what’s happening at work so you can remedy any consistent coworker conflict for the sake of your mental health and your career, sooner than later.

With that in mind, below are the four simple steps you can use TODAY to take your power back at work and gain a deeper understanding of your part in the mix.

Step 1: Raise Your Awareness

Awareness of yourself in the mix is always the first step to transform anything because you cannot change that which you are unaware. Your past experience and life experience can be playing a role in workplace conflict. To decode what is really happening whether it’s an ongoing conflict with a co-worker or if you’ve found yourself in different jobs repeating the same scenario (bully boss, put upon by co-workers, overworked, etc.) there may be an unresolved past experience fueling your behavior. In therapy-speak, we call this having a transference experience, I call it having a Repeating Reality. To determine what you might be repeating that could be attracting this unwanted scenario, please answer the questions below:

  1. Who does this person remind me of?
  2. Where have I felt like this before?
  3. Why is this dynamic familiar to me? And another way of framing that question is looking at it from the point of view of who do I become and who do they become when the interaction starts to go south?

To give you a quick example of this. While interning to become a psychotherapist, I had a boss who I feared. There was no factual evidence that I should be afraid of him. He never did anything to me, but I was convinced he was a cold, judgmental jerk who didn’t like me. I would completely avoid him to the point that if I saw him walking towards me down the hallways, I’d duck into the ladies’ room to avoid any interaction. My reaction to him, a man I really did not know, was extreme.

Finally, my therapist asked me to give her more evidence of how he’s an idiot and then she asked me to describe him again. As I was describing him to her, it became very apparent to me that I was describing my father down to the Brooks Brother suit and a daily Wall Street Journal habit! I was shocked and a little embarrassed that I had not made this oh so obvious connection. (You know how hindsight = 20/20) I grew up fearing my father, feeling judged, not good enough and the wrong gender. My therapist helped me to see that I was behaving as my 10-year old self and treating my boss as if he was my father…in other words, having a transference experience. You can see that letting my 10-year old self make my career decisions would most likely not produce the best results, right? I hope this story will help you to apply the 3 Qs, as I call them, to your situation to gain clarity and make any necessary changes.

Step 2: Use Your Intention

Tapping into the mind-blowing power of your intention and changing your mind about the situation is your next step. One way to do this is to use visualization techniques. Do you realize that your expectations can be predictive? If you go into work every day bracing yourself for a shit show, it is likely that one will find its way to you. Imagine that your expectations and feeling state create the energy that emanates from you. It’s like that energy has little hooks on the end and leaves your body and goes out to hook other like energy, bringing it back into your experience. That is the concept of the law of attraction. You can consciously decide that you will do your work, that you will protect yourself energetically and not get hooked into anyone else’s drama and stick to it. More mindful responding and less reacting. Feel the feelings of having a peaceful, productive day. Don’t underestimate the power of your intention to change your experience.

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” – Dr. Wayne Dyer

Step 3: Power Pose

Try a Power Pose experiment and see how it impacts your confidence at work. Amy Cuddy and fellow researchers at Harvard conducted a controversial study that indicated that in as little as two minutes a day standing in one of the power positions (the easiest to describe is standing tall, arms high above your head in a V shape or victory stance with legs spread about hip distance apart) increases confidence and good feeling hormones released in the body. Participants reported feeling more confident, assertive and powerful. (For more on this watch Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk) Even with the controversy around Amy’s research being a ‘pseudoscience’ I think there is something to it and really, what do you have to lose?

Step 4: Speak Up

Sometimes drawing boundaries requires you to actually say what’s on your mind. You can make a simple request to co-workers or your boss when it comes to your boundary preferences. And before saying something, get clear about what your body language is already broadcasting to make sure it is aligned with how you feel. For example, If you prefer to be quiet in the morning and you have a chatty co-worker who starts yakking the moment you walk in, you can consciously use body language as a powerful tool to communicate your preference. Use closed body language such as leaning into your computer screen, drinking a cup of coffee away from your door, not facing forward inviting conversation, etc. Doing so will give signals that are aligned with how you actually feel. If someone is in your space and talking, you can put your hand up and say, “Hey, can I make a simple request that we pick this up after 10:00 AM?” You can provide context, “I find myself most productive when I can work solo for the first hour of the day. Thanks,” or not. When you draw boundaries, you have to understand people may not like it and you have to just be OK with that truth. The more you do it the better it gets.

You can draw boundaries with ease and grace. There is no need to be aggressive, but you can’t have the disease to please and draw effective, efficient, healthy, flexible boundaries. @terri_cole (Click to Tweet!)

It’s impossible because if you’re overly worried about offending others, you will endlessly abandon and sacrifice yourself and your preferences. You must accept the reality that when you change the behavioral dance that you’ve been doing with people, they might not like it, and that’s okay. As a therapist, I firmly believe that it’s not only your right but your obligation as well, to be self-determined.

So, those are my ideas for you to manage the heck out of having toxic coworkers. You can obviously use these four steps to draw boundaries in any situation, not just at work.

I talk about this a little more in my video blog which you can find HERE.

I will continue sharing my boundary obsession (and wisdom with you through weekly livestreams every Wednesday from now until the first week in September. And if you would like to catch up on the other livestreams you can find the replay on my Facebook business page here OR for my ladies only, you can catch it in the Real Love Revolution FB group. Click here to join if you’re not already in it.

So mark your calendar to join me live for the next couple of Wednesdays at 3 pm EDT on my business page + the FB group to dive deep into all things boundaries and to learn more about my upcoming Challenge in September & the Masterclasses.

If you felt like this blog post was helpful, please share it on your social media channels. That is the best way for you to support my mission in life which is to empower as many people as possible. I truly appreciate your support! I hope you guys have a beautiful week drawing boundaries with ease and grace and as always, take care of you.

Terri Cole is a licensed psychotherapist, transformation coach, and an expert at turning fear into freedom. Sign up for Terri’s weekly Newsletter, check out her blog and follow her on Twitter.

Related Posts

  1. How to Set Boundaries at the Office
  2. The Ultimate Reason Why Setting Healthy Boundaries Is a Sign of Self-Care
  3. Identifying and Changing Toxic Relationships
  4. Create Real Self-Love in 5 Simple Steps

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