5 Tips for Dealing with Toxic Workplaces

By Pedro Hernandez | Posted August 14, 2013

At work, situations often get personal despite everyone's best efforts to keep their interactions on a professional level. Things can take a bad turn and eventually, your small business will suffer.

People chalk up abrasive attitudes and snippy behavior to the pressures of the job (or a lack of caffeine). Rifts and rivalries form, tearing at the cohesiveness of your workforce. Obviously, a productive environment this is not.

The backbiting and bouts of inappropriate banter that make workplace sitcoms so entertaining on TV—The Office is a prime example—aren't so funny in the real world. Worse, left unchecked, such behavior not only leaves behind dissent in its wake, it can land a company in court.

Some of the biggest offenders, according to management consultant Ken Lloyd, are "office idiots who don't recognize the value of diversity." They operate on outmoded stereotypes, he says, oblivious to the benefits that a diverse workforce and the creativity it fosters can bring to a business.


Lloyd has a PhD in organizational behavior and is a speaker and frequent media contributor. In his book, Office Idiots: What to Do When Your Workplace is a Jerkplace, he delves not only into cringe-worthy examples of bad behavior in business settings, he also offers managers and employees a way to combat them. Here are some of his suggestions.

How to Create a Jerk-free Office

1. Take Action

"They're not going to go away," says Lloyd of office idiots. So don't let their crimes against workplace harmony go unchallenged.

Avoid jumping into an explosive confrontation. "Focus on behavior, outcomes and performance," he says. Addressing these factors, and avoiding quirks and other traits of the offender's personality, diffuses a lot of defensiveness that can otherwise form the situation.

By sidestepping the drama, misbehaving colleagues are likelier to improve and resolve matters professionally.

2. Don't Enable It

Without realizing it, "it's very easy to be an enabler of office idiocy," laments Lloyd.

How often do you let the office chatterbox monopolize your time and attention? When did you last complete a coworker's assignment while your own to-do list grows?

Unless you're earning another paycheck for doing another person's job in addition to yours, knock it off. "If you don't say something and act assertively, you're rewarding [the behavior]," says Lloyd.

3. Minimize Multitasking

"Do not put up with the myth of multitasking," advises Lloyd.

Studies have shown that people are not as good at juggling their workloads as they think they are. "People cannot successfully and effectively handle multiple high-level tasks at the same time," he says.

In the workplace, this means that colleagues with their noses buried in their iPhones aren't actually listening to what you're saying. And don't bet on them being fully invested in the task at hand.

Both can lead to friction at the office, so discourage multitasking and restore focus for better office interactions and workflows.

4. Stay Out of Email Battles

Email has a funny way of warping what you mean to say.

"Email is great for communicating facts and figures," but terrible at conveying emotions and a poor platform for arguments, warns Lloyd. In face-to-face interactions, "80 percent of the information we send is nonverbal," he informs.

In short, a lot of information and intent is lost in the short amount of time it takes an email to hit your inbox. If you see an email battle brewing, "pick up your feet, or at least pick up the phone," advocates Lloyd. Your inbox and your blood pressure will thank you.

5. Don't Be an Office Idiot

Look inward; chances are that you sometimes engage in the behaviors that infuriate your officemates.

Assess how you treat people. If you find yourself falling short, make an effort to "truly treat them with respect and trust," says Lloyd. Engage in active listening for rewarding interpersonal communications and to avoid potential schisms.

Ultimately, "manage by the golden rule," recommends Lloyd.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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