How to Deal with Toxic People in Your Workplace
A How to for Corporate Survival
Let's face it—today's fast paced lifestyle can foster anxiety. You probably know a colleague or boss whose every request is urgent and due yesterday. Their email subject lines almost always contains exclamation points, and they are not afraid to contact you after hours or on your day off. They demand you drop everything, because their request is super urgent and the world will stop spinning until you complete their request. They clearly feel your time is best spent solving their problems, and are blissfully ignorant of your existing priorities. In short, they are annoying and a time drain, and they need to stop.
Sure, every time management seminar or book tells you to set boundaries to save your sanity, but you also have to get along with everybody. You also know you need to speak up to set appropriate expectations. So how can you do both?
There is nothing you can do to change your colleagues or boss's reactions to deadlines and tasks, but you can and should control your own. Always remember: anxiety is contagious, but so is a calm approach.
If your normal reaction is to keep silent in the face of urgent requests, it's likely rooted in your fear that your colleague or boss will think you're incompetent if you speak up. If that's what is driving you, try taking a step back and ground yourself so you will be less reactionary.
This grounding may be difficult if your colleagues task is urgent and causing your adrenaline to spike. Take a long, deep breath and even a short break to center yourself. Once you leave your reactionary self behind, you'll be in the frame of mind to tell your boss or colleague about your other priorities and boundaries.
Make certain you are coming from a calm, reasonable space by focusing on timelines, not your ability to accomplish the task at hand.
Don't fear escalating this project or task to your supervisor and let them know about the facts of your priorities and workflow. And don't feel you have to automatically accept the project immediately. Engage in a conversation with the emergency-maker and try to determine the reasons for the short time frame. Stick to the facts about what's possible, what needs to get done, and why it's so urgent.
One strategy is to start the conversation with the emergency-maker like this: "I really like working with you and you have my respect. We can do great work together, and I could do better work on a five day time frame as opposed to your one day request."
The bottom line is that different people perceive urgency differently. One person's emergency is another #8 on their to do list.
Still, pushing back on priorities will not work for every colleague or supervisor. Try speaking up when you feel over-committed—communicate you are worried about burnout and being over stressed.
Be as transparent as possible and make certain your boss or colleague understands other projects will be re-prioritized. Ask them what you should work on first. "I am happy to work on your deadline, but it means this other project will be delayed."