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Avoiding Toxicity In The Workplace

Written by: Marguerite Thibodeaux, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


We all want to work in an environment where we can thrive and as a leader, it’s your responsibility to cultivate one. What most often gets in the way of thriving at work? A toxic environment, where people are spending their mental and emotional energy trying to protect themselves ‒ from dehumanizing bosses, backstabbing coworkers, or overwhelming and unrealistic organizational expectations ‒ rather than on delivering high-quality work.

 Upset Employee Lady Covering Ears While Aggressive Coworkers Shouting At Her .

Toxic work environments might sound like:

  • “She stole my slides for her presentation today. What am I supposed to present tomorrow?”

  • “You know she’s going to get promoted for that side project on the New Shiny Thing while I get stuck doing her day job because she doesn’t have time for both.”

  • “I couldn’t go on vacation there. There’s no cell reception. What if my boss calls me?”

If you’ve ever heard anything like these, then your teammates can’t:

  • Trust their colleagues or leaders

  • Rely on fair performance management and promotions

  • Unplug and recharge during personal time

These teammates can become disengaged as a survival mechanism because being emotionally invested in this environment would drive anyone crazy. The good news is, it’s never too late to turn things around and create a healthy working environment where your team can thrive. A healthy environment is where people can be themselves while working together towards a common goal. The good and bad is this: There is no one-time magic bullet. It is built with lots of small, intentional moments.

1. Recognize things that you do or don’t do that might have a negative impact on your teammates.

What you say or don’t say both matter. What you do and don’t do both matter. Your words and actions have power because you are in the position of authority. This is why self-awareness is important. Do your words empower or belittle? Are you setting an inclusive, empowering example? Silence is most often assumed to be agreement. As a leader, your silence could accidentally be agreeing with:

  • Another leader’s poor treatment of your team

  • Your teammate’s, “I’m on PTO tomorrow, but I’ll have my phone if you need anything.”

  • Your company’s official stance on big political moments

You also have to be purposefully transparent. Sometimes, not relaying vital information and instructions from the management (like major changes in the department or organization) can be detrimental. Keep your team informed instead of keeping them in the dark.

2. Create a safe environment for open communication.

No matter how inclusive and thoughtful you are as a leader, you will not get everything right 100% of the time. Nor is that required to avoid a toxic workplace. Holding space for open communication empowers your team to co-create a healthy work environment with you.

  • Prioritize clarity. Focus on facts. Avoid sugar coating. Ultimately, unclear messages muddy feedback, making it less likely that the recipient has a clear understanding of how to succeed in the future.

  • Leverage curiosity. How do you take feedback and suggestions from your teammates? Being curious about what is driving this feedback can take the personal sting out of it, making an open dialogue much easier and a resolution more likely.

  • Listen with compassion. Don’t interrupt or minimize. (ex. You didn’t really feel that way.) Listen for personal experience and how to better set up your teammates for success, assuming everyone wants to succeed.

As this open communication grows, you are not just encouraging feedback and collaboration. You are also cultivating a culture in which your team can deal with conflict and disagreement productively.

3. Recognize and immediately address toxic behaviors.

Healthy work environments are ones where everyone can focus their mental energy on delivering great work rather than watching their back. That means no bullies.

Look for verbal and nonverbal behaviors to identify and address bullying in the workplace. Bullying is any behavior that benefits the bully at the detriment of the team. An often overlooked source of bullying is gossip, or judging colleagues on personal choices or preferences that do not impact work results, and it has no place in a healthy work environment. Gossip encourages “us vs. them” and superiority mentalities, neither of which support a healthy, collaborative work environment. In practice, this could be as simple as fashion choices are off limits as long as they comply with company policy or what someone does with their personal time is completely up to them. If they share news about their offtime, it’s an invitation to know them better as a person, build understanding and trust, not to judge them.

Also look for nonverbal cues to root out bullying. If any of these are true, ask what is making them act this way. Often, an open, honest conversation will illuminate someone else’s bullying behavior, so that you can then address it with clarity, curiosity, and compassion for everyone’s benefit.

  • Are there people on your team walking on eggshells?

  • Are there people who are afraid to speak up?

  • Are there people who are hesitant to share work in progress?

Want to turn around a toxic culture but don’t know where to start? Book a complimentary consultation. I’d be happy to help get you started.

About the Author: Marguerite Thibodeaux is an executive coach and talent management consultant dedicated to changing our relationship with work. Work should be a place where each of us gets to enjoy the challenge of contributing to something bigger than oneself. She focuses on helping leaders at all levels create habits, skills, and environments that empower teams to thrive.

Every leader deserves support.

  • Follow her on LinkedIn for leadership tips and discussions.

  • Check out her website for free leadership resources like a Professional Development Roadmapping Worksheet and Attrition Risk Matrix.

  • Want one-on-one help adapting these strategies to your team? Book a complimentary call with Marguerite. Every leader deserves support.

Follow me on LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!

Read more from Marguerite!


Marguerite Thibodeaux, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Marguerite Thibodeaux, an leadership coach and talent management consultant, helps leaders and organizations bring the best out of people with courage, compassion, and clarity. After building development programs and leading a talent transformation at a Fortune 100, she became increasingly aware that not all leaders had access to a Fortune 100 Learning & Development team. To do something about that, she started Magnanimous Leadership, a leadership coaching and consulting firm that's on a mission to make resources and support available to every leader.



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