A Buddhist Monk’s Strategy For Dealing With Toxic People And Toxicity In The Work Place

As the pressures and the demands of work have increased, so has toxicity in the workplace increased.

We have all worked in environments where we have felt our wellbeing has suffered either through the actions of a colleague, a boss or the general culture of the workplace. Toxic people create toxic work environments where drama, passive-aggressive behaviour, bullying, gossiping, hostility and negativity abounds.

Working in a toxic environment is difficult and stressful and nobody is immune to its effects from the Chief Executive Officer to the receptionist.

Work-related stress accounts for over half of all workplace absences in a year according to data from the Health and Safety Executive. 59% of respondents say they are experiencing some kind of work-related stress.  Higher earners (i.e. those earning more than £40,000) are the most likely to experience work-related stress with a staggering 72% reporting that they are suffering from it.

So although we cannot always avoid toxicity in the workplace, there is always relief in sight if we are able to identify the signs of toxicity and have strategies on hand for dealing with it.

A few years ago I had the privilege of hearing Haemin Sumin, the Buddist Monk and author of “The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down” speak at the BBC Freethinking festival in Gateshead. A lady in the audience asked him about dealing with toxic people and stress at work. His response has helped me cope with many toxic situations.

Haemin Sumin told us to imagine walking in the park and coming across a lovely white adorable puppy. The puppy is so cute that you feel drawn to touching it and even cuddling it.  You reach out to do just that when the cuddly puppy turns aggressive and starts to bark. The cute puppy is no longer cute. It looks dangerous and frightened you decide it is best not to touch or show it any affection. You do not want to risk getting bitten.

Just as you walk away, you notice that the puppy was not barking at you.

I was in pain. It had been caught in a trap and had worn itself out when you first saw it lying cutely in the park! It was bleeding and hurt and needed help and rescue.

Would you walk away or would you rescue the puppy?

This was Haemin Sumin analogy for the behaviour of toxic people. He encouraged as to see toxic people as people in pain. Their behaviour and toxicity might not necessarily be directed at you. They may be dealing with challenges and pressures that trigger their toxicity.

Reframing your thinking to see toxicity as pain and learning to respond to toxic people with compassion is a great way of managing toxicity at work.

Reframing toxicity this way helps us to handle toxicity without making it personal. You’ll start to appreciate that toxicity says more about the person being toxic than it says about you.

So if you find your work environment intolerable due to toxic people whether they be colleagues, clients or the general environment, just bear in mind that they may be wounded souls. Empathy and compassion may be the way forward.

Let’s hear from you. How do you manage toxic people and what strategies have you used to cope? Tweet me at @gktogo

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