Dealing with a hostile workplace: Look for incremental success

Relax, you're not crazy -- people are becoming more disingenuous and disrespectful. Rage is no longer limited to the road-agitated and angry people are showing up at work, too. Common courtesy and civil behavior are being replaced by an in-your-face attitude that not only breeds contempt among peers, but also dampens their collaborative spirit.

In general, people become more difficult to deal with as their level of dissatisfaction and discontent rises. More and more business magazines and management periodicals are running feature articles on the mounting hostility in the workplace. Your willingness to make a long-term commitment to an employer may soon depend upon your ability to succeed in an antagonistic workplace.

Working with disgruntled, disagreeable and dysfunctional people is not easy, but it can be done if you use the following principles to guide you:

  • Have a strong belief in your worth and value. You may have faults (which others will quickly point out), but as a whole person no one is better than you are. Feel good about yourself and trust that what you do may not be right for others, but it is right for you.
  • Don't waste time with negative people, especially if you don't see any change in their attitude toward you. Surround yourself with people who hold you in high esteem. Do what you know is right and others will soon learn that you are trustworthy.
  • Do not compromise yourself and your values even if it means losing the approval of your co-workers. Hold yourself up high and treat yourself well. You deserve it.
  • You risk being rejected whenever you commit yourself to a dream or vision that is different from the status quo. You also risk losing support from others when you act on your own set of principles. Think of going it alone as a means of measuring the value of your commitment.
  • Look on failure as part of the learning process. When forced to work on your own in a hostile setting you're likely to fail more often. Examine the cause and try to avoid similar mistakes in the future. When one thing doesn't work, don't give up-try something else. Management by accountability

    In a hostile setting, your subordinates may not know what success looks like, so you may have to "picture it" for them. Begin by describing what the situation looks like now. Make it clear that the current situation is unacceptable and that it must not continue as is. Help them individually and collectively to understand why and get them to accept the need for things to improve.

    Trying to manage people in a hostile workplace is best done incrementally -- one subordinate at a time. Eventually, your followers will understand that taking responsibility for their own actions is not as scary as they thought. Once your subordinates understand that you are willing to overlook their mistakes so long as they are accountable for their actions, they and anyone else observing your leadership style are more likely to follow your example in the future.

    Finally, state your goals and tell your followers what they can expect from you when the job is accomplished correctly. And also what will happen if they miss the mark.

    Sense of worth

    Your biggest challenge in a hostile workplace is to produce results that are noticed and appreciated by those higher up. In a hostile organization, success is not expected; so don't count on very much support in your search for excellence. Working in a hostile environment is not all doom and gloom, however. There will be times when you'll enjoy the challenge of coping with uncooperative people despite their dysfunction. But first you'll have to accept that these are not bad people, they were merely rejecting what you have to offer.

    Three factors your are key to maintaining a sense of personal worth in a hostile working environment:

    (1) There must be opportunities for you to make a positive difference.

    (2) There must be opportunities for you to grow personally and develop professionally.

    (3) There must be opportunities for you to do things that others cannot or will not do.

    As long as all three are present, you'll find job satisfaction even if your bosses and co-workers continue to flail at you. However, if these opportunities diminish in value or cease to inspire you, it is likely that you can do no more. In that case, your next move would be to update your résumé and plan a graceful exit.

    Jones is a management consultant and award-winning author of "Help! I'm Surrounded By Idiots" and "If It's Broken, You Can Fix It." He can be reached at Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.

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