Thriving Even When You’re Working with Difficult People

One of the most highly-requested things I’m asked to talk about is how to thrive even when you’re working with difficult people. The struggle is REAL – especially when you love what you do and enjoy your patients, but are finding it hard to work with certain people.

For some, a natural reaction would be to quit their job and move onto a better environment. For others, the solution might not be so straightforward – especially when finances are tight or you are unable to change your commute.

In this blog, we’ll be talking about toxic work environments, bridging the gap with your coworkers, and finding joy outside of your work so that you can still maintain happiness and fulfillment in your life.

Recognizing a toxic work environment

Let’s talk about toxic work environments: they’re everywhere.

You may have jobs where you had to deal with micro-aggressions on a daily basis. You may have jobs where people are openly aggressive in general. You can have work environments where only a small group of people are affected by a toxic boss. Or you can have an entire team venting about how bad conditions are as a form of camaraderie.

Regardless, toxic is toxic and people can find themselves struggling with stress, lack of time, and self-doubt as a direct response to their work environment.

Since we spend a huge chunk of our lives at work, it’s important to find a way to gain fulfillment from your job in some form. Recognizing whether you’re working in a toxic space is a great first step to handling the issue.

Keep your eyes open during your interview

Figuring out if a workplace is less than supportive can be difficult to do before you even start working with them. Ideally, you’d be able to get a totally honest understanding of how the pharmacy, office, or business works before you sign a contract to begin work. Unfortunately, many workplaces keep their troubles just below the surface during the interview prospect.

Try and pick up on negativity or strained relationships as you watch the team interact with each other, how they act when they introduce you to others, and the way they’re communicating with you during the interview itself.

If possible, try and talk to some of your potential coworkers one-on-one. You’d be surprised how many people hint or joke about toxic work environments as a way to tip off a prospect.

Figuring Out if your current workplace is toxic

Sometimes, figuring out if we’re currently working in a toxic environment can be tricky. The changes can be subtle and occur over a long period of time. Almost imperceptibly, that dream job where you felt like you were surrounded by supportive, like-minded people has turned into a nightmare.

If you’re struggling with understanding whether or not you’re suffering from a less-than-ideal workplace, ask yourself:

  • Have I been feeling more negative lately?

  • Do I come home angry?

  • Do I vent a lot, specifically about work?

  • Do I feel hostility from my team?

  • Am I unable to let things go? (like replaying workplace scenarios over and over in your head)

  • Am I more stressed than I used to be?

  • Do I feel like I’m thriving?

If you answered yes to the majority of these questions – or if you answered no to the question about thriving, you may be struggling with the effects of a negative workplace.

Addressing problems with your coworkers

Once you’ve identified that you’re working in a difficult environment, or with difficult people, it’s time to think about the things that you control – rather than focusing on all the things other people should change.

First of all, two people with strong, differing views can have a healthy debate. But how do you manage that when you are coming from a place of hurt, frustration, fear or anger? We back away from these when the stakes are high and emotions run strong, but they are important to the healthy atmosphere of a work environment and the safety of patients!

In the book Crucial Conversations, they emphasize sharing your facts as a way to objectively state what’s going on while trying to make a connection instead of escalating hostility.

Quitting isn’t always an option

As glorious and tempting as it may be to quit on the spot after your boss or a coworker just slighted you for the 100th time, many of us need to secure a new job before leaving the toxic one.

And finding a new job may not be an easy or fast process, so we need to figure out what to do in the meantime so that we can still enjoy our lives without sacrificing too much to a toxic workplace.

Here are my top 5 survival tips:

  1. Have a work friend - having at least one friend makes those difficult days so much more bearable when you have someone there to laugh with.

  2. Still be kind - you may be surrounded by toxic people and stressed to your max capacity, but do what you an to deflect and rise above the poor behavior of others.

  3. Have something you’re working on - having a hobby or an area of mastery will help you keep your focus somewhere else.

  4. Have a go-to response - when you’ve had enough or are about to lose it (like if your tech is refusing to do something or a colleague is getting negative), think of a response that is logical, firm, and still kind that you can use to stand up for yourself safely.

  5. Stop absorbing the toxicity of a negative environment - instead, start sharpening those interview skills and send out your resume to a setting that is more in alignment with your goals.

Bonding with your coworkers

Sometimes, people are lashing out because they want to get a reaction; and many times they are unhappy themselves. While this isn’t an excuse for their poor behavior and contribution to a bad work environment, you can try to go out of your way to rise above and try to bridge the gap for your benefit.

If you think you can be friends, start with acceptance and finding a common ground. Sometimes, getting to know someone can dissolve that toxicity. However, be aware that negativity can wear off on others and you don’t need to absorb that despite your newly forged bond.

Find Joy Outside of Work

More than anything else, people who are navigating negative work environments should be paying EXTRA close attention to their mental health.

Your well-being and mental health is something that can quickly spiral out of control if you let it; snapping at others, being passive aggressive, and losing patience quickly can all be warning signs that you’re bringing your work home with you or letting the negativity consume you.

Protecting our mental health is very important to how we approach things at work and take care of patients. If you can, try a five-minute mindful meditation to bring you out of a negative headspace. You can also excuse yourself to regain your composure in difficult situations at work, which can help you disengage and cut down on the level of stress you’ll experience.

And what if you can’t walk away from the situation?

Then, pause, take a few breaths and take a moment to think outside of the situation. In situations like these, having a go-to phrase can also help; something like “I am above this” or “It’s not personal.” You can also take a moment to reconnect to your why by thinking: “I am in this job because of xxx” to help you keep the bigger picture in mind.

At the end of the way, understanding your needs from your coworkers and bosses, recognizing if your environment is toxic, and finding ways to manage your own mental health are key in order to eventually move on and find a workplace that is aligned with your needs and goals.

Joanna Simmon