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:
If you have ideas on improving your connection with others at work or would like to explore more on the topic, please leave a Comment below!