How to Survive a Toxic Environment

“Everyone is miserable here.  Look at us.  Every manager has gained weight.”  My colleague was complaining about the toxic environment we were working in.  He was frustrated with the branch manager who was an authoritarian.  She manipulated her direct reports through public shaming and scolding. This manager was lamenting that we were in a no-win situation.  I felt it too and was equally frustrated.

 We had tried to unite the managers to voice their objections directly to the branch manager. But everyone was too scared to fight her. I felt stuck with no place to go – no vision of possibilities. 

Feeling helpless

Fortunately, there have been very few periods when this has happened to me.  Being stuck is not a place you want to be, and it is not a period of creativity and growth.  It is a period of not believing you can make a positive difference in the world.  You feel helpless.

This week I had the opportunity to listen to a webinar with Martin Seligman. He is well known in the field of positive psychology.  In this webinar he briefly traced the periods of growth in history to the times when people believed they could make a positive difference in the world.

Helplessness, Seligman said, is the default for many of us and often we must learn to be optimistic.  Two ways that he mentioned to get more optimistic is to form good relationships and to find meaning and purpose in our lives.


Another webinar I listened to was with Richard Boyatzis an author and leading expert on leadership and emotional intelligence.  He talked about the need today to focus on self-preservation.  Covid 19 has given lots of us so much stress that both coaches and their clients need that focus.  He suggested focusing on three areas: vision, mindfulness and relationships to alleviate stress.   

Perhaps if I had had these suggestions during the time I worked for that branch manager I would have been able to move forward with energy and determination.   With a clear vision of where I was heading, I could figure out what my next step needed to be.  That vision would have given me meaning and purpose in my life. 

Mindfulness allows us to stop and notice what is happening around us. Even when things are at their worst there are good things to notice and feel grateful for.  Taking time for this has been a challenge for me in the past but since Covid I have realized it is really a necessity.  I am getting better at it.  When I was dealing with that difficult Branch Manager however I didn’t even know what mindfulness was and my mood was dark.

Supportive Relationships

Finally having supportive relationships helps to alleviate stress.  Boyatzis asked in his webinar, “Who are the people in your life who helped you become who you are?” Those are the relationships you want to continue to build and find more of.  As an added question he asked us think about whose list we would be on because we helped them become who they are.  That is our legacy! 

I don’t know what happened to that manager who was complaining to me.  I do know that one of my supportive relationships saved me.  A friend was forming a sales and support group to market a new AT&T product and she asked me to join the group. She saved me from being miserable and the new product was exciting enough to me that I was able to form a new vision of my life and work.

What’s your vision of your life and work?  Do you have supportive relationships that can help you move toward it? If you want to find your vision and then to keep it in focus, a coach can help.  A coach can also help you to identify and form better supportive relationships too.  If you would like me to coach you, please call me at 781-598-0388 or email me at to set up a free no obligation appointment to see if we would have a good working relationship so that you can grow and flourish.


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