Unfortunately, a toxic work environment is far too common of a complaint.
And equally unfortunate is that it is an experience that many are having every day.
You may immediately say, “yeah, me too!”
But what if You are the reason that the toxicity exists?
We like to believe that toxic behavior comes from the obviously toxic other person. Someone who is easily angered, constantly complaining, or otherwise creating an unwelcoming environment every day is clearly the problem.
But it may be hard to accept that the “someone” can be you!
The reality is that becoming toxic can sneak up on you. You may have:
Stayed too long at a job that you have outgrown,
Bitten your tongue too often with a boss you don’t agree with,
Created a safety net of colleagues that are negative all the time or
Lost your boundaries between personal and business etiquette for a job you’ve been at forever
And slowly, without realizing it, you have become part of the problem.
Because you have tolerated or participated in unhealthy work experiences and relationships, you have allowed yourself to become a different person as a byproduct of these decisions.
Now, from the outside looking in, you are the toxic one.
And you may not even know it!
Here are 3 signs that You may be the toxic coworker creating a toxic work environment:
#1 Constant Complaining
You may not realize it but you complain about everything.
If your boss addresses the team, it is never delivered the right way.
If the company initiates a new process, it’s never going to work.
No matter the action taken, you receive it as poorly executed or just not smart.
In your mind, you may have a perfectly reasonable rationale for this thought.
Related Post: How to Survive Working for a Boss You Hate
You have been at the company long enough to see the issues time and time again:
A poorly executed communication from the top
A completely non-thought-out plan of action from your boss
Zero communication with the people who do the job every day before completely changing a process by some random project team
You have seen ALL the signs!
So why would calling it out suddenly be your fault!!
The action may not be your fault.
But the constant reiterating and complaining for hours, days, or weeks can feel faulty to others and easily becomes another issue on top of everything else.
If the problem is so pervasive, so consistent, and so obvious, others know it without your communicating it.
You do not have to be the mouthpiece for pointing out what everyone else can clearly see.
How to Kick the Complaining Habit
Instead of frowning, shaking your head, rolling your eyes, or just constantly, excessively, nauseatingly complaining, do something about it.
It is leaps and bounds more productive to create a solution instead of belaboring the problem:
Champion a new process so that you can be a key communicator of its progress. This can give you front-row seats to try something new, give you an opportunity to share positive outcomes, and also a channel to suggest changes based on actual data instead of just opinion.
Ask to speak with your boss privately and then ask if your boss is open to feedback on a problem you see. Share your concerns in a thoughtful manner. Focus your constructive criticism on the process, not on people, where possible.
Carefully consider any new processes, proposals, or communication to see if any positive changes have occurred since your last negative experience. Look for and be genuinely optimistic for seeing even small positive progression.
In all cases, it is better to be a part of the solution than to constantly reiterate a problem.
And it is even more productive to share concerns with people who can make positive changes than to complain to those who can only suffer with you and through you.
You can choose to be a solutionist or risk the potential of creating a toxic environment by being a constant complainer.
#2. Accidental Gossiping
Private business and personal information often turn up in any work environment.
People talk about and share all facets of their life all the time.
But any version of sharing information about another person in a negative or disparaging manner can be considered much more than just talk. Quite often it can be perceived as gossiping.
And when this occurs habitually it can become toxic.
Are you a habitual over-sharer? Do you feel that when asked a question you must give the most comprehensive overview possible, even if it is not asked of you?
Toxic over-sharing and gossiping can occur as a means to deflect blame, to create perceived superiority over others, or to generate a feeling of self-importance.
Taking these types of actions at the expense of others can create a spirit of distrust and discomfort between you and your co-workers.
How Do You Recognize If You Are an Accidental Gossip
Have you done something like this before:
Other Department: “Hey, can you let me know the status of those entries? Just want to make sure I am ready for the next step when it hits my desk”
You: “Oh yeah. No problem. I’ll be done soon. Sally had to go to the school AGAIN for her son so she’s behind on her entries and I’m helping her out”.
What could have seemed like an innocent answer to a question, results in creating a highly uncomfortable situation.
This can make the receiving party uncomfortable and can make the person spoken about feel violated and exposed should they learn of the disclosure.
These types of accidental gossiping scenarios happen all the time. And when repeat instances occur and are not redirected, a toxic environment can ensue.
To Avoid Being Perceived as a Gossip, Adopt Communication Sensitivity
Never share others’ personal information, even if you were not directly told to keep the information private. Just don’t share.
Be friendly but concise when responding to others’ inquiries. Eliminate unnecessary details that are not asked explicitly to avoid unintentionally disclosing private, confidential, or inaccurate information.
Consider others when speaking on their behalf or about them. Before you make a statement, imagine if the same statement was to be made about you. Would you find it kind or hurtful?
Being exposed to a gossiping work environment can make others feel embarrassed, unsafe, and targeted.
Hearing negative things about a co-worker can lead others to disengage with them, distrust them, or consider them incompetent.
These experiences can cause those involved to have poor work relationships, feel disconnected from the business, and overall create a toxic work environment.
#3 Being Bitter
All forms of toxicity are not overt. Regularly practicing a lack of communication, lack of collaboration, or lack of cooperation can be toxic.
But you may feel completely justified for your disposition.
Maybe you received feedback regarding your perceived but inaccurately identified negative demeanor in the past. Or you feel that your input is never listened to or considered so to protect your emotions you decided to stop giving it.
Over time you decide distance and quiet are your best and only resolutions. But instead of being calm and content in your work, you are noticeably resentful and unapproachable:
You shrug your shoulders and turn away when you don’t know an answer.
You point to where your boss or co-worker is instead of verbally communicating their location.
You make a point to offer zero communication in any meeting or discussion in which you are asked to participate.
It is impossible for anyone to not know that you are mad about something all the time!
But in your mind, you are avoiding a problem versus causing one. (Since you seem to always cause a problem anyway).
How Do You Communicate When According to Everyone Else You Seem to Always Get It Wrong?
There are times when you may need to be different than the otherwise happy-go-lucky, chipper team member that others expect.
You may have recently been reprimanded, had a terrible meeting, or even suffered private concerns at home that essentially make you feel bad.
You cannot always put on a happy face when you are internally struggling with something. However, when you hold on too long to a bitter disposition, like it or not, it affects your work.
Part of being at work is showing up fully.
And if you work in an environment with others, part of showing up fully is interacting with others…..productively.
Even if you keep your interactions brief and to the point, you can still be a collaborative, cooperative, and communicative team member.
Improve How You Connect with Others
Give good eye contact when responding to questions. Addressing a person eye-to-eye is a sign of respect and attentiveness
Speak in full sentences and not with one-word answers or gestures. This ensures that others are clear regarding your input. And provides an opportunity for follow-up communication should it be warranted.
Be approachable. If you cannot be warm, at least provide a neutral tone of voice. Being overtly stern, annoyed, or dismissive can be interpreted as uncooperative.
While anyone can have a bad day and in severe circumstances even bad weeks or months, the goal is to do your part to be a productive part of your team.
If behaving in a cooperative and collaborative manner just is too much, explore taking time off from work. Or, if possible, actively work toward correcting the issue(s) that is causing you concern.
Constant isolation and portraying a disgruntled behavior becomes toxic when you become so shut down that others become unproductive and overly distracted by your behavior.
You may think that you are making yourself invisible and unimpactful but, in fact, you are creating a very noticeably toxic environment.
Consider This: You Could Legitimately Become Toxic Because of a Toxic Work Environment
It may be unsettling to discover that you have become the cause of someone else suffering a toxic work environment.
But there may also have been a time when you were victim to toxic surroundings and could have easily listed these traits in someone else.
If you have started to become a product of a toxic environment, it may be an important time to make a change:
Explore and examine how you interact with others and ask for feedback from those you trust to be transparent and honest with you.
Track your mental and emotional status at the beginning and end of your work day and see if you have a pattern of being frustrated, annoyed, or disgruntled about work regularly.
Watch for the behaviors described in this post or other negative behaviors that you feel are out of character for you. Determine if work triggers these new behaviors from you.
You can become a product of your environment, but you don’t have to.
Take Accountability for the Work Life You Want to Have
You always have the ability to decide who you want to be and how you want to experience your work life:
Reflect on the type of work environment and work experience that is ideal for you and make changes to incorporate more of your desires into your daily work
Examine who you spend your time with at work and consider making changes if you have inadvertently fallen into a negative crowd
Confront the reality of whether or not you have become complacent with staying at a job that you otherwise should have left already. It may be time to make a job change. Read my post on How to Know It’s Time for a Job Change and start working toward a more positive future for yourself.
No one wants to be part of a problem. But you can always choose to create solutions.
You should not create a toxic work environment or be at the mercy of the one around you. Have a better work-life by choosing to take action to have one.
No one wants to work in a toxic environment. And, hopefully, no one wants to be responsible for creating the toxic environment that others work in.
We all have opportunities for improvement.
But if you ignore your bad habits and repetitively adopt poor behavior, you can become the cause of the discomfort, anxiety, and stress in others. You are the toxic environment at your job.
Reflect on who you are, how you behave, and what you want to be. Take time to improve what you can or to make the personal changes you need to be part of solutions and not part of the problem.
You do not have to be the toxicity in your work environment.
If you are looking for more ways to reexamine, recreate, or really improve your work life, read these other posts:
There is an art in creating imagery and using it to influence others.
Even if what you share is based on fact, the real power is in your use of the details and application of your influence.
Steps you may take without even thinking are things like:
Capturing others’ individual attention privately so as not to have others muddy the opinions you share or offer counter opinions
Establishing how wrong a person is against what others believe to be an irrefutable wrong or right. This method makes it completely logical for others to agree with you in condemning the other person.
Invoking emotion regarding the perspective. Anger, shock, sincere disappointment. Once a specific person has had their character demonized, invoking emotion will further align others with your negative imagery.
Stating your argument repeatedly. The more you repeat the concern, cite more evidence, and stir the pot, the more people see things your way. The key here is acting repeatedly until the new imagery is cast and accepted by everyone that you intend to convince.
One thing leads to the next and before you know it you are b*tching about your job again. This is not about the occasional complaint or the classic tough-day-in-the-office story.
You are on a full-on, non-stop, binge just complaining and ranting about your job daily.
The crazy thing about it is that it makes you feel horrible. It makes the person listening to you feel horrible. And yet, you find yourself not being able to stop.
It can start off innocently as a bad-boss story where you conveniently play the part of the helpless and clearly wronged victim.
But before you know it, it’s your co-worker, your pay, your passed-over promotion, and even your ridiculous parking spot. You have fallen into hating everything about your job and have spent hours talking about it.
And while you may have gained a posse of sympathizers, you also have blown a month’s worth of peaceful nights.
Worse yet, you have gotten to the point where you never leave work. You take it with you everywhere in your mind. And you brought the worst parts of it into your home, to your family, and planted them into the deepest crevices of your thoughts.
You have b*tched your whole life away.
So while we don’t have to keep phrasing it this way, you know it’s the truth. You have created a serious and unhealthy habit of complaining way too much about your job.
And it’s a habit that needs to stop.
Your job hate is not the real problem. You are.
But that’s okay.
This is not about making you the blame.
It is about making you the solution.
Use these tips to stop excessive work complaining and to take back the joy in your life.
Tip#1: Check-In with How You Really Feel
Before you convince yourself that you will feel better if you just let it out, check-in and see how you feel just before you speak. It’s amazing how even your facial expression will let you know the energy that you are about to emit.
Your eyes begin to squint. Your eyebrows will furl. Sometimes even your jaws will clench. You are ready to really dig into those jerks at work and give them what they deserve. But in reality, you are giving yourself a replay of your bad day in the worst way.
Checking in with yourself you can see if you actually feel good in the process of sharing your bad day.
Relieving any form of trauma is, well, traumatizing.
Unless you truly see a light at the end of the tunnel or a solution being born from the pain, it just is not worth hurting yourself again.
If your boss, your co-worker, or some random customer already made your day terrible, don’t empower them by giving them more of your time and energy.
Release their hold by releasing the memory and refusing to waste your free time-bound to their bad behavior.
Tip #2: Get a Pulse on the Room
You may have all the justified need in the world to release the pain from your mind out into the open. However, your audience may not be a willing participant on the receiving end.
Sometimes it is critically important to lean on others when suffering through life’s challenges. But it is also important to evaluate if you found the right partner to help.
Some family members may be suffering problems of their own at this time. Others may have had the best day of their life and then you show up with a pound of negativity that destroys their whole disposition.
Take a pulse check to see if now is a good time to lean on another’s shoulder.
A good friend or family member will be there for you fully when they are in position to give you their best attention. But pushing your way through can make your bad situation feel even worse.
You will feel better in the process when you feel acknowledged and listened to. You may even get better feedback when your supporter is in the best position to be of support.
In stopping to consider if sharing your bad day is good for another person, you may decide it’s not good for them or for you. #facts
Tip #3: Confide in the Right Person
Make a habit of being selective with who you share your problems with, in general.
Rather than find the one person who will sit and complain until the sun comes up, instead find that friend who finds the bright side to every situation.
Misery loves company but too much misery is just miserable!
Have a confidant who will listen to your problems but then help you find solutions. The experience of finding positive outcomes despite terrible situations can be healing to you both.
More often than not you tell yourself that you want to talk about your problem so you can get it out and get over it.
A good solutionist is going to help you do just that.
Talk out what went wrong. Envision how it could have been better. Potentially address the situation the next day with a positive outcome in mind.
Now together you have transformed a complaint into an improvement opportunity.
Tip #4: Refocus Your Attention
Take a moment to evaluate if what you have to say is better than what you have to experience right in front of you.
Remember, right now you are itching to relive your past. But in your present, you have valuable time to spend with family, friends, your pet, or even your favorite tv show.
Why would you trade all the good in your life to relive one moment of pain that is over?
Even if you have to return to an uncomfortable situation the next day, give yourself the opportunity for peace now.
It may seem like all that you can think about is how horrible work was. But it is worth the effort to create a distraction and set yourself on a different path.
Play music that you enjoy on your commute home.
Put on a tv show that makes you laugh.
Play with your kids.
Walk your dog.
Kiss your significant other.
Call and check in on your mom.
Surround yourself with all the things that are going right in your life and put that ugly work memory on the shelf for now.
Better yet, tell all those that are important in your life how thankful you are to have them to come home to.
After a bad day, it is life-changing to bask in gratitude for the good that you have.
Even if it takes effort, refocusing your attention is worth the reward of your peace of mind.
Tip #5: Keep Your Home Sacred
For those days where you really have to go through the ugly details of your day, give yourself set boundaries.
All ugly happens outside of the house, but none of it crosses the threshold.
Once you are home all bets are off. You don’t speak about it. Don’t think about it. You will not carry a bad day into your home.
This is not only a blessing to yourself but it is a blessing to all who reside with you.
By making your home a sanctuary, you have declared that you set the tone for what your home represents to you.
You may be paid by your job, but you are living for your household, even if you are a household of one.
Don’t sacrifice the peace of your home for a paycheck.
When you prioritize your home, you simultaneously prioritize yourself and create healthy boundaries that support you.
This self-support will give you the opportunity to recalibrate and to reintroduce calm into an otherwise hectic, stressful day.
It can also serve to put you in a better frame of mind to handle the challenges and burdens that you are facing.
When you rejuvenate, you recharge your battery. And with proper energy and rest, you are less likely to want to complain.
Tip #6: Be a Problem Solver
Rather than complaining with no purpose, put conscious energy into resolving your problems.
Complaining just to complain rarely is a fix to any problem.
But assessing a problem situation with the intention to create a more positive outcome is worth your investment.
If your boss communicates with you disrespectfully, how can you be the catalyst for better communication? Maybe they don’t know how you feel and you can take the courage to share the impact their words have on you.
Or it could be that a co-worker seems to never keep up with their work and it impacts your workload. You could attempt to work collaboratively with them to create an improved workstream.
Your pay may be embarrassingly lower than others who do what you do. You could approach your boss or your HR representative to see if it is possible for a change.
Instead of demanding fairness, which you may deserve, you can first explore to gain an understanding. There may be a reason for the discrepancy or you may have to face that your work output is not on the same level as someone else’s.
Each of these situations presents somewhat easy solutions. But the problems that you just can’t stop talking about often are difficult, repeated, and truly disruptive experiences.
Even the toughest problems can have real solutions if you seek to find them.
When necessary, seek out counsel, gain professional support, or get advice from others with more influence. You may even have to strategize on how to leave your job if there is no resolution within your job.