Controlling toxic workplace confrontations


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Dr Felicity Lawrence explains how to control confrontations in toxic workplaces, and thereby protect your mental health.

Contemporary workplaces are arguably founded on two Universal Truths:

Universal Truth 1: Employees seeking to retain their job and salary are morally obliged to follow the workplace rules, behaviours and attitudes (e.g., collaboration, respect, etc.).

Universal Truth 2: Workplace employers and leaders seeking employees’ cooperation and assistance are morally obliged to provide an environment safe from physical and psychological injury (e.g., online/offline bullying and harassment).

These terms are violated when:

(1.) An individual or work faction disobeys the first Universal Truth and actively disrespects, bullies or physically threatens other employees, and/or

(2.) If workplace leaders ignore or allow these behaviours to continue, thereby leading to physically or psychologically unsafe working conditions.

I believe the first step to surviving, or even thriving, in negative or toxic work conditions literally starts when we deliberately and consciously set our intention to take action and decide to reassert our control.

We decide to move from ‘reacting’ to ‘responding’. This worked for me in my last public sector role. Learning the strategies and tactics to expedite this mental shift is incredibly empowering and helps boost well-being, mental health and even job satisfaction.

Why? Well, because YOU are back in the driver’s seat and are no longer a passenger. You now have choice when before you felt as though you had none. As I said, this is a subtle, yet powerful, shift in perception.

Controlling toxic work behaviours before it escalates and injures your mental health.

Using tactics to control negative or toxic work behaviours, such as disrespect or intimidation before it escalates through the workplace violence continuum into harassment, bullying and mobbing is a powerful strategy that can enhance your self-confidence and mental health. Studies found that negative or toxic behaviours initiated by co-workers can harm mental health, well-being, and job engagement.

Funnily enough, this research points to another simple truth that I bumped into during my doctorate! The faster negative behaviour is identified for what it is, the faster you stop berating yourself for something you probably can’t (easily) change, the faster you can control the behaviour and reduce the impact on you and others. A simple concept that is difficult to master.

Digging into the HOW and WHY behind toxic work behaviours is empowering.


Homing in on the HOW and WHY behind negative or toxic work acts are incredibly powerful. Why?

In brief, research has confirmed that learning to recognise the early warning signs can help you to fathom why the situation arose in the first place (e.g. ego, fear, anxiety, poor processes).

Not only does this help you to psychologically take the pressure off (again, these behaviours are probably not your fault), once you’ve figured out what is triggering the behaviour you can then dip into your Tailored Response Toolkit and choose your course of action.

The ability to ‘pause, analyse, and respond’ rather than react is tremendously empowering.

The power of staying calm while in the ‘eye of the storm’.

Learning to recognise the impact of fear, anxiety and ego-driven actions on you and others in your workplace can also help uncover why some people simply unravel or blow a fuse in different work situations.

This knowledge, together with some confrontation defusion tactics, can significantly enhance your capacity to remain cool and to respond, rather than react, in the midst of emotionally fraught situations.

Dr Lawrence’s eModule “Controlling Workplace Confrontations” is the first under her Bespoke “Reach Your Full Potential@Work” Bootcamp. It gives prevention and defusion strategies and tactics that help you regain control of negative or toxic work situations with an expert showing you the way. Email for more information.

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