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Troubled soul in a toxic workplace

Hi Office-Politics,

I joined this company in March 2006. I come from a very different environment, my last job was with a corporate with 2,700 people there, this is a 30 person company but i am amazed with the insecurity and amount of loose talk that goes on around here.

Most of the people here have been with the company for long, so they all feel as if they own the company. There is this one lady who annoys everyone. She is just mean and rude to everyone. She needs to know everything everywhere, has this wonderful tendency of butting in everyone’s job.

I have also come to realize that the ones who are not that well educated are most insecure and are the ones who are highly unprofessional. I fail to understand as in why there is no cohesiveness here, some of them wait for one guy to make a mistake so they can start pointing fingers…. I am sick of it …. all the loose talk drives me nuts… so much so that i changed the place where i sit. Now i sit towards the end of the office in the last cubicle so i cant even hear who is saying what.

I mean i fail to understand, we spent more time in our office than our homes, why would someone like to make that unpleasant.

This lady i was talking to you about is jealous, insecure, and pathetic…. when i excel in my job she had called at times and told me that i kind of suck at my job…. well she is not my lead or boss and has no right to say stuff like that to me.

I wish i would know how to put her in her place, it’s not only me but everyone around my office has had it with her, i do not say anything to anyone is because i like to keep things simple and not create an unpleasant atmosphere.

How do i help myself enjoy my work place !!!! Please help.

Thanks & Regards,

Troubled Soul…..


dr. rick brandon
dr. marty seldman

Dear Troubled Soul,

You are describing an office environment that is dysfunctional, and potentially toxic. Every organization and its personnel have a finite amount of time, energy and things they can focus on. In a healthy setting this time, energy and focus is devoted towards achieving objectives, learning and teamwork. This actually creates a positive cycle (called a “virtuous” as opposed to “vicious” cycle) where people feel successful, empowered and appreciated.

You haven’t indicated whether the owners of the company are aware of the climate or why they tolerate it. This would be important to find out. It seems like many of your peers are unhappy about the behavior of the woman you described but are reluctant to deal with her. Why are so many people afraid of her and where does her power come from?

Without the answers to these two questions we can still give you some recommendations.

We are happy that you recognize that, with the large amount of time you spend at the office, this situation is a threat to your physical and emotional health.

Here are some things you can do to protect yourself.

1. Toxic Nurturing

As much as possible try to build allies of like-minded people who care about results and teamwork. This will help you enjoy more of your day and may help you longer term if you ever need your network to stand up for you.

2. Be firm
Since you do not want to say anything about this woman to others and seem to want to avoid a confrontation, we recommend that you be very firm with her. It is possible that she is something of a bully and when she can’t intimidate you she may back off. The two areas you mention that directly effect you are requests for information that are not part of her job, and unsolicited criticism of your work.

On the first issue, say things like:

“When I complete that data it will be sent to my manager. She will decide the sequence of people it will be shared with.

On the issue of criticism,

“I am always wanting information to improve. If you have a specific example or concrete suggestions I welcome them. General negative comments are not helpful.”

“I understand your opinion about this. I put this in a category of things where people may have a different perspective on how we should do things. I think my approach is better in this situation.”

We feel that building allies and being firm will improve things but we advise in addition to study the power dynamics at the top of the organization to determine if things will eventually change or if a more forceful approach could work.

Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.

Warm regards,

Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. Co-authors,
Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success

cover of Survival of the SavvyRick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. are Co-authors, Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success. Dr. Rick Brandon is CEO of Brandon Partners. He has consulted and trained tens of thousands at corporations worldwide, including Fortune 500 companies across a variety of industries. Dr. Marty Seldman is one of America’s most experienced executive coaches. His 35-year career includes expertise in executive coaching, group dynamics, cross-cultural studies, clinical psychology, and training.

  1. 4 Answers to “Troubled soul in a toxic workplace”

  2. Thank you, I truly appreciate the response.

    By Letter Writer on Oct 21, 2006

  3. This seems to offer concrete advice. I experience negative feedback from a colleague so will ask her to cite concrete examples. I also want to give her “permission” if that is not too patronising a term to “warn” me when I am offending her.

    I feel if we could agree a raised eyebrow or something this might help. My line manager asked me in my appraisal if I would like to be moved away from this colleague. I felt at the time that I had more to learn from her and should learn to “ride the storm of her discontent” in order to create a more harmonious environment long-term. I have a further meeting with my line manager in a few days. In the words of a good friend of mine it may be too late to ask to be moved now.

    I will mail you back in a week or so – all being well!

    By Teri on Oct 29, 2006

  4. it seems that the management in several companys dont care about there people. I have read several of these and why does this go on? Because people are TRAPPED they NEED there JOBS, especially when they have responsiblities. It makes me sick. There needs to be more LAWSUITS against companys.

    By Terri Koob on Oct 10, 2007

  5. The guy hits the nail on the head when he says we spend more time in the office than at home- Why DO we have to become ill just because we are trying to get money to pay our rent and feed our family??
    But take even 10, not 30 people and chances are you’ll get one that really winds you up anywhere. The ONLY solution is take it, but make plans to move. You don’t NEED to fight to keep working in a shitty place!!
    With enough hope and desire to move you can laugh at this silly lady and think “I’ll be gone from here soon”

    By Dom on Mar 5, 2010

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