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How to stay focused when working in a toxic environment

As a human resource professional turned therapist, I had negative experiences at work that were often tied to a micro-aggression or stereotypes and I understand the unique position of the worker who has to ignore those negative experiences and still maintain a level of professionalism. I've also witnessed what other workers have similar experiences which gave me the inspiration to write this post.

No matter what you may be experiencing in the workplace, one thing is common for most workers, we HAVE to go to work. People have various responsibilities tied to their lives which require them go to work (if they do not have other means to earn money and sustain a livelihood) so people feel limited in what they can do to help themselves when they are working in a toxic environment. Most people will put their heads down and continue to work despite what they are experiencing.

I once worked in a small office setting with five other people. Two of those people had their own office and myself and the three other workers sat in separate cubicles. I had been in my career in HR for a few years at this point and had gained some decent work experience throughout that time with various well-known employers in the area. When I came to this work unit, one of the three workers who sat in a cubicle was from another department and this was their first HR position. So, although I was more senior in my HR career than my counter-part, this person had been working for the organization longer than me and was not new to the company.

This employee was good friends with another co-worker who shared this office space with me and they would speak to each other in their native language around me, whisper and laugh around me and I was never included in the banter or general office talk. In fact, the only time they seemed to acknowledge me was when there was something they did not know and they had to come to me with questions or issues that needed to be resolved! I can even recall an instance where I was called into my managers office and berated because this co-worker misplaced a document they were working on somewhere on my desk and I was blamed for not finding it! (Keep in mind this was a document I had never seen, touched, or worked on in any way). Over time, this took a toll on me mentally. Feeling ostracized in the workplace for whatever the reason is a tough place to be in when you have to be there eight hours a day, five days a week.

Of course, there could be arguments made that this was all in my head and that there were perfectly good reasons for each and every negative experience I could recall, but that is not the point. My feelings about the situation I was in were still VALID. Regardless of whether my feelings of being ostracized in the workplace could be justified in some way or not, I still had to navigate being a professional around people I felt were not being professional with me in the workplace. This is what brings me to these ten tips that I hope will be helpful for your in some way. The purpose of these tips are to help you stay focused on your goals and not the behaviors or actions of others in the workplace. Staying focused will also help you maintain your professional and reputation despite what you may be experiencing.

This is not to say that you should ensure a toxic work environment. There are entities and resources available for you and you should take full advantage of them all to the extent you are comfortable. In the interim, you still have to go to work, and you still have to do your job and not in a way that puts an unnecessary target on your own back for possibly responding to what you perceive as mistreatment in the workplace. Hopefully some or all of these tips will help you keep things in perspective as your work towards your purpose. If you find these tips to be helpful, I included a handy free download of these same tips so you can keep them posted somewhere as a reminder for you of what is important in your life.

Control your emotions. This is a place I always like to start because if we allow our emotions to control us, we could be possibly responding in a way that is not strategic and not helpful to us in the workplace. Using the example I provided above, if I allowed myself to respond based on how I was feeling, I could have been accused of making false accusations against co-workers thereby making the workplace uncomfortable for them! Imagine the double whammy that would be to my feelings about my job, myself, and my future outlook at the company. So maintain control of your emotions. Distract yourself with music that you play in your ears so you don't distract others. Stay focused on your work and your job.

Only tell yourself what you CAN do. Think about how often you say you can't do something or you don't have time to do something. Those are negative perspectives on your abilities. Try thinking from the perspective of 'I can' 'I will' or 'I am'. These are more powerful and intentional words that you can use about your abilities and what you plan to do with your life.

Create positive affirmations for yourself and look at them DAILY. This is helpful to remind you of all the good things about yourself. You need this especially if you work in a toxic environment. There are so many ways that we speak negatively to ourselves and about our lives. This negativity only breeds more negativity. If we only see the negative aspect of our jobs, then that is what we dread each morning before getting to work. Start and end your day with the positive affirmations you create and do it until you believe it.

Stop the negative self-talk. Again, negativity is surrounding us so we have to be mindful of it in all its forms. Whenever you find yourself repeating something negative about your abilities or anything else, immediately stop and say something alternate to that and make it positive. When you are unsure about something, don't say, 'I don't think I can', instead try, 'the though of doing this makes me nervous but I'm going to tackle it in pieces so I know I can handle it'. Whatever else you can think of, make sure you stop negative self-talk immediately and alternate it with something positive.

Write things down. Writing things down helps solidify things for yourself. Write down your aspirations, your plans, goals, or anything else that you want to come true in your life. Instead of telling people your plans or goals, try writing them down instead. Writing things down for yourself is almost like you creating a contract with you regarding what you plan to in your life. Write things down and don't share them with anyone. Keep it for yourself. This also helps you to be honest with yourself when you know no one is going to see it.

Protect your dreams from people who don't have their own. You may have heard this in reference to people who may be jealous of you and could secretly wish on your 'downfall' or you may have heard this in reference to people who want to caution you from pain or negative experiences they've encountered or witnessed but regardless of the reason, you don't need any distractions from your goals/purpose. Take again the example above, if I am more concerned with the behaviors of others at work, then I am not focused on my work and I certainly won't have the energy to dedicate additional time to my purpose or goals if I am distracted with toxic co-workers or a toxic work environment. If you need more encouragement, listen to another perspective on why you should protect your purpose from others.

Love yourself. This one may seem easy but if you consider negative self-talk, toxic work environments, and other existential components, it can become harder and harder to genuinely love yourself. Loving yourself can include some of the examples here, but it is also giving yourself credit for the hard work you've done thus far or getting up and being present at work daily. Loving yourself is also giving yourself grace for when you make a mistake and credit for all that you are doing well. Be more mindful that you are loving yourself.

Surround yourself with people who want to see you win. This is another example of ways you can surround yourself with positivity and positive people. Think of when you work in a toxic environment and you want to apply for a promotional opportunity. If you mention it around someone who doesn't want to see you win, they may tell you all the reasons they think you aren't ready or in some way attempt to create doubt in your mind. Whereas if you told those same aspirations to someone who wants to see you win, they would encourage you to apply, help you brush up your resume or give you some other tips because they want to see you win.

Every experience in life is either a blessin' or a lesson. If you are a person who believes that everything happens for a reason, then you must also believe that when something 'bad' happens to you then, the reason must be a lesson that you need to learn or something that you needed to experience. This will help you keep things in perspective. People will often question a negative experience before they experience a positive one, but there are folks who will question positive experiences as well. 'Why did this happen to me' or 'what did I do to deserve this' are the types of questions some people will ask when they should just accept that it is a blessing and keep it moving. Don't question everything, sometimes its good to keep things simple.

Keep going...even when it gets hard. This is important for everyone, especially if you work in a toxic environment. There are times when life can become overwhelming, continuing to go to work and spend the majority of your time in a place where you are unhappy and you can lose your motivation. You can lose your energy to work hard for more and settle into just being a worker. If you do that to yourself, that is an example of giving up and you have to keep going until you reach your happy place. Be consistent and even if you pause for a moment, pick it back up again and keep going. Using these tips can help you with consistency, your mindset and motivation for your purpose and beyond your toxic employer.

If you found these tips to be helpful, feel free to download a free version for yourself that you can print and store in a place where you can see it everyday.

I hope this helps, have a good day!

10 Tips to Stay Focused at Work
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