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How To Cope With A Difficult Work Environment

How To Cope With A Difficult Work Environment

The world of work is changing, thanks primarily to technological innovation and the impact of the Great Recession. While instability within the global job market has limited the number of employment opportunities that are available, so too the development of mobile technology and remote communication has empowered people to work on an independent basis.

This is set to come to a head in 2020, by which time technology giant Intuit estimates that up to 40% of the American workforce will be self-employed. If this trend were to come to fruition, the subsequent rise in the number of employers would actively help the job market to evolve by creating additional opportunities.

While we may all have dreamed of working for ourselves at one time or another, it is not something that suits everyone. It is certainly not an idea that should be considered as a way of escaping a difficult or challenging work environment. Entrepreneurship demands a unique set of characteristics that not all individuals possess. If you are faced with a problem in the workplace or find yourself struggling to adapt to your professional environment, it is far better for you to confront the issues and develop viable coping mechanisms. Here are 10 ways to cope with a difficult work environment:

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1. Avoid becoming emotional when dealing with professional criticism

One of the key issues in the workplace is a perceived lack of appreciation, especially when you consider that today’s employees are increasingly motivated by job satisfaction and the respect of their managers. With this in mind, attempting to deal with criticism can be a difficult and emotionally fraught process, which can easily turn into a conflict of egos that is detrimental to your career. Instead, it is important to consider the criticism in a professional context, and use its message as a way of highlighting potential problems and improving your performance in the workplace.

2. Empower your colleagues through praise

On a similar note, it is important to treat your colleagues with respect and in a manner that you would find acceptable. The employees of a company are all pulling together to achieve a common set of goals, which means that there is a pressing need for unity, mutual respect and a keen sense of collaboration. With this in mind, do not be afraid to praise and congratulate your colleagues on a job well done, as this may ultimately diffuse tension in the workplace and cultivate a more harmonious environment.

3. Be a proactive communicator

While criticism and negativity can be detrimental in the workplace, it is a lack of communication that will ultimately sour your experience in any given job. If you are having issues with your boss and struggling to meet their requirements, for example, this situation cannot improve unless you become a proactive communicator who can address the underlying problems. So take a positive step and approach your manager, making it clear that you are open to amending your methodology and outlook so long as they are able to confirm their exact needs. This enables you to assume control of the situation and resolve it effectively.

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4. Think carefully before escalating your issues with higher management

If you are experiencing a direct conflict with a supervisor or colleague, it is always tempting to escalate your complaint with higher management. However, this is not an effective way of dealing with workplace angst, primarily because it can reflect badly on your reputation and inhibit your chances of career progression in the long term. While you must always retain the right to escalate your complaint up the chain of command in extreme circumstances that involve workplace bullying, for example, you should avoid this course of action until you’ve first exhausted every form of direct mediation with the individual in question.

5. Go beyond the call of duty by doing more than is required

Although you may not realise it, there may be occasions where your approach to work or the attitude that you display are central to the challenges that you face. If you are struggling in the workplace, it is wise to honestly appraise your performance and whether or not you are applying yourself in a committed and professional manner. If you are not but remain serious about developing your career, it is time to commit to your role and prove that you are willing to go above and beyond your designated duties. This not only demonstrates your value to an employer, but it will also help your colleagues to see you in an entirely different and more positive light.

6. Do not partake in workplace gossip

Many of the issues caused within the workplace are triggered by gossip or personal complaints, which have little or nothing with the job in hand. This is partly down to a modern trend for sharing too much personal information in the workplace, which in turn creates over-familiarity between colleagues and brings non-work related topics into the office. As much as possible, you should refrain from engaging in personal workplace gossip, as otherwise you may find yourself dragged into a conflict that has absolutely nothing to do with you. Remain reserved in your conduct at all times, and keep a clear distinction between your personal and professional lives.

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7. Develop coping mechanisms for dealing with difficult co-workers

While idle gossip and the carefree actions of others can have a detrimental effect on your enjoyment of the workplace, it is important to remember that your co-workers are unique individuals with different temperaments, outlooks and personal characteristics. Occasional conflicts and disagreements are therefore unavoidable, but you can avoid the majority of these by recognising difficult or volatile colleagues and developing viable coping mechanisms. If your supervisor is prone to sudden bursts of anger or frustration, then learn to identify the signs and excuse yourself before you become a target.

8. Focus on developing a positive work-life balance

For anyone who lives and breathes their job, experiencing difficulties within the workplace can have a huge impact on their quality of life. This has been supported by recent research conducted by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development, who claimed that employees on zero-hours contracts and who had minimal interaction with their workplace were far more likely to have a more positive work-life balance. It is therefore crucial that you have hobbies and passions to pursue outside of work, as this will help you to cope during times of professional conflict or dissatisfaction.

9. Develop a ‘Plan B’

When workplace conflicts take a turn for the worse, it is easy to become disheartened and discouraged. It is therefore crucial that you keep your options open and consider the benefits of following an alternative career path. By updating and distributing your resume, networking with potential clients and honing your industry skills with professional qualifications, it is possible to both advance your career and take control of your existing workplace problems. This is the ultimate coping mechanism, as it increases your chances of finding a permanent resolution and moving forward in your career.

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10. Be prepared to leave for pastures new

Of course, no matter how hard you try, you may ultimately have to accept that your workplace issues cannot be resolved. This may be due to unmanageable levels of stress or a conflict of personalities. However, the only way to progress in this instance is to be proactive and seek out alternative employment. This means that you must be fully prepared to follow and implement your back-up plan, as hesitation or a failure to commit may leave you stranded in an untenable position. While leaving a secure job may require considerable courage in the current climate, it may also be your only option if you cannot adapt to your environment or the attitude of your co-workers.

The Bottom Line

In order to adapt to a difficult work environment and develop coping mechanisms for specific conflicts and individuals, your ability to be proactive is pivotal. This not only enables you to confront issues head-on and communicate directly with those at the heart of the problem, but it also allows you to develop alternative plans in the event that your complaints cannot be resolved. Without this characteristic, it can be extremely difficult to move forward in your career or achieve a positive work-life balance.

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Last Updated on April 17, 2019

10 Essential Soft Skills That Will Help Advance Your Career

10 Essential Soft Skills That Will Help Advance Your Career

What’s the secret of professional success? Some of it lies in the mastery of your discipline and all the technical skills you have to carry out your job; but a much bigger part lies in the soft skills list you possess.

Soft skills are your people or relationship skills—how well you get along with others and your ability to communicate and collaborate—as well as the personal characteristics you bring to the job, such as optimism, a can-do attitude and the motivation to work hard. These skills are not always easy to point out, but their absence can cause serious problems and negatively affect the whole work atmosphere.

They say that hard skills will help you get the job, but soft skills will help you get along—and get ahead. With that in mind, here’s the top-10 essential soft skills list to help you advance your career.

1. Communication Skills

Communication skills are hands-down the most sought-after soft skill that bosses want, and this one ability covers a lot of ground.

To communicate well, you have to listen carefully, interpret the context of the conversation, express yourself clearly, persuade others of your point of view, check your body language and use an engaging presentation style that won’t intimidate or bore your audience. That’s a big ask!

Your personality traits can influence the way you communicate with others. For instance, some people get straight to the point and center their arguments around facts and logic; others are cooperative and sensitive to how others feel. Both these approaches are equally valuable but there can be misunderstandings if you don’t understand where the other person is coming from.

Taking a comprehensive personality test can help you understand why you communicate the way you do and where your blind spots are. It can also help you understand other communication styles is so you can tailor your communication to the person you’re dealing with.

After all, connecting with your conversation partner is the hallmark of good communication.

2. Flexibility

Change is an essential part of any business. Companies need employees who are flexible enough to work with new initiatives, open to new ideas, and generally are able to tough it out when things don’t go as planned.

Research has found a link between job performance and flexibility over the long term because there will be times when you have to step outside your routine and rise to fresh challenges that didn’t exist before.

Being flexible doesn’t mean you have to hop into a new task or job role like an expert. Rather, it’s about showing you’re willing to accept new responsibility and learn different things.

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Bosses look for people who are prepared to step outside their comfort zones and are open to alternative solutions when their first idea doesn’t work.

3. Being a Team Player

Working on a team can be challenging but learning to do it well can definitely help you get ahead in your career. Employers look for people who can negotiate, cooperate and manage conflicts with other people to achieve a common goal. That includes the ability to build lasting relationships with customers and clients.

What makes a good team player? Essentially, it’s someone who knows the goal and knows her role. Employers look for evidence that you know your strengths, your responsibilities and how you can best contribute to the team, then put those skills into action by sharing ideas and communicating in a respectful manner. That’s the definition of being a good team player.

This is another area where taking a personality test can help you get ahead. When teams work together, each member brings a unique set of skills and qualities to the group. Research has shown that different combinations of personalities affect how teams collaborate and how productive they are.

Knowing who you are, and how you work on a team, can drive new insights and open the door to better teamwork.

4. Positive Mental Attitude

There are plenty of things you can’t change at work, like the people you work with or the fact that the printer is broken again. The one thing you can change is how much you let these things bother you.

Bosses like people who are calm, rational and upbeat—those who diffuse tensions in the workplace, not get all grouchy and go around slamming doors.

Studies show that people who maintain a sunny disposition have better relationships at work, are happier in their jobs and make better decisions than those who whine and complain. Some suggest that a positive mental attitude can also make you live longer—which means it’s beneficial for every area of your life![1]

It’s not always easy to keep a “glass half full” mentality when work is stressful and the deadlines are piling up. But there are some things you can do to help maintain a positive attitude. Laughing at your unfortunate circumstances keeps the work environment positive, and taking “sanity” breaks can help you keep your cool in high-pressure situations.

Managers look for positive mental attitude in a team member that is ready for a promotion, so it really does pay to keep your cool in challenging situations.

5. A Strong Work Ethic

People with a strong work ethic are committed to the role, persevere when things get tough and are inspired by challenge. These people are ambassadors for the organization, and will always be seen as top talent and ideal candidates.

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If you can exhibit this skill, then expect to be seen as a great candidate, eligible for new opportunities and positions throughout your career.

Since a strong work ethic can mean different things to different people, it helps to show specific examples of your exceptional work ethic during a performance appraisal or interview. For instance, you might talk about:

  • A time when you persisted in the face of challenges and did not shy away from hard work.
  • How you volunteered to help with projects even though these tasks did not form part of your job description.
  • The networking, workplace learning and skills betterment you’ve undertaken, which shows ambition and drive (people with a strong work ethic have those qualities in spades).
  • How you own your mistakes and never, ever point the finger of blame at others.

For help with building a strong work ethic, check out these tips: How to Build a Reliable Work Ethic

6. Public Speaking

Who’s terrified of public speaking? Pretty much everyone, since public speaking is America’s number one fear, ahead of death at number five and loneliness at number seven.

Yet, according to Warren Buffett, mastering this one skill you could increase your personal value by 50 percent.[2] That’s huge!

If you’re not natural at public speaking, you’re in good company. Buffett had to work hard to overcome his stage fright and once dropped out of a public-speaking course before it started—because he was afraid of public speaking! He eventually realized that he needed to build up his confidence by just doing it; over and over in front of small groups.

For a more structured approach, Toastmasters International teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a variety of pathways. Membership of this non-profit looks good on your resume but the real payoff will come when you can put your newfound skills to use on the job or in the interview room.

Or, you can check out this advice: The Ultimate Public Speaking Tips to Hook and Impress Any Audience

7. Integrity

From a manager’s point of view, the two integrity skills that will set you apart are:

  • Always doing what you say you will do
  • Owning an error instead of minimizing or hiding it

…even when no one is around to check up on you.

There are lots of people who have climbed the ladder without scruples, but they are not the people who others trust, respect and support when promotion time comes around.

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Behaving with integrity is a safe and consistent way to enhance your reputation and achieve your professional goals.

8. Managing Your Time

Phone calls, texts, Slack pings, meetings, huddles, side projects, multitasking—we are busier today than any generation before us. There’s no denying the workplace is an incredibly distracting place to be.

A lot of us have traded effectiveness for busyness which we wear as a badge of honor, both as a proxy for productivity and to show our value to the company. But what bosses want, what they really, really want, is someone who actually gets stuff done on time.

Time management is not merely the art of being on time, but of managing your time so you focus on the projects that really matter and add value to the business. This means prioritizing well, sticking to schedules, delegating, and not getting distracted by tasks that are easier to perform or less important. It means planning ahead and learning when it’s appropriate to say no.

Time management can be a tough skill to maintain, but not a difficult one to pick up. Monitor your actions for a few days—how long do your tasks take to finish? What’s interrupting you? What causes you to lose focus? Once you have the answers to these questions, you can set a schedule for yourself to make sure you’re spending your time wisely and this valuable asset is never wasted.

These 20 Quick Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity are also great to try.

9. Assertiveness

In any workplace, you typically will find people with the following conflict styles:

  • Passive: Those who go out of their way to avoid conflict.
  • Passive-aggressive: Those who express their negative feelings through actions rather than words.
  • Aggressive: Those who respond to conflict in a hostile and rude manner. These people get their opinion heard but they won’t make any friends in the process.
  • Assertive: People who stick up for their rights while still respecting the rights of others.

Managers look for assertiveness above all other styles because it allows decisions to be made without conflict or alienating people.

How do you use this information for yourself?

It starts with understanding your personality so you can anticipate how you will react when conflict arises and address your own shortcomings. Then, you can start influencing the team for top results, and securing your own career advancement in the process.

Learn how to be assertive and gain respect:

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How to Be Assertive and Stand up for Yourself the Smart Way

10. Creative Thinking

LinkedIn recently analyzed over 50,000 skills that employers search for when looking for candidates to find out what skills are currently in demand.[3] Taking the number-one slot on the 2019 soft skills list was creativity: the ability to solve problems and think outside the box.

Creativity is about bringing fresh, and sometimes unorthodox, ideas to the table. This helps companies to innovate, and companies that do not innovate will not survive very long.

How do you showcase your creative thinking skills? The golden rule is to participate.

Be brave and share your ideas during group brainstorming sessions. Volunteer to run a society, networking event or recruitment drive. Ask “what if” questions: “What if we add this information to the client welcome pack?” “What if we eliminate step 3 from the process?”

These activities demonstrate that you’re prepared to go beyond “business as usual” towards creative problem solving—an ability that will serve you every day, all throughout your career.

You can learn to unleash your creativity power:

What Is Creativity? We All Have It, and Need It

Final Thoughts

The good news? Every item on this soft skills list can be learned. Although you may feel lacking in certain areas, taking an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses will allow you to focus in on the areas that you’ll benefit from developing.

So take an inventory of your personality, skills, and talents. This will give you a baseline for your communication style, attitude to change, conscientiousness and more. You can then identify your weak areas and develop strategies for improving your team-building, assertiveness and conflict skills.

The better news? The effort is worth it. Developing your soft skills opens the door to a new job or a promotion, and helps you succeed once you get there.

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Featured photo credit: Rachael Gorjestani via unsplash.com

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