Bernie Anderson
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Current musings, whatever they may be. 

A Pot Of Potato Soup, Arsenic, and Chives: Toxicity in the Workplace

Culture changes when behavior changes. Behavior change is not an easy task, especially in a toxic work environment.

An environment of backbiting, blame-shifting, and suspicion. People posturing themselves for a position and for power. This toxicity is at potato soup proportions. I’ve swum in that soup. I’ve played my part in creating that soup.

But I refuse to have even a taste of that soup anymore. It’s a sludge of arsenic and poison. (This is a metaphor. I actually like potato soup. If there’s cheese.) Life’s too short and, at my stage in life, I don’t have time or energy for navigating noxious. I have the freedom to not enter into that sort of environment anymore.

Not everyone has that freedom. Here’s how I would navigate those soup bowls now.

Disengage

Not from work. But from the politics and issues of irrelevancy that swirl in the pot. You don’t have to show up for every fight. When wading through the potato soup, it’s best to stay away from floating pieces of emotional chives, the unnecessary spice of power-mongers and kingdom-builders. You don’t need it to do your job.

Diffuse

“Be good!”

Make good choices!”

These are things most parents tell their kids before heading off to school or summer camp. My ex-hippy Dad was not most parents, though.

“Be a peacemaker.”

That was his directive for me as a kid. It has become a life-defining statement for me. I despise conflict. But conflict cannot always be avoided. People are people, and we all have hard heads. With a little wisdom and finesse, conflict can be diffused. Rather than engaging in a dogfight with head-on tenacity, think well about your options. Is there a way to diffuse tension? To engage in a way that makes peace? Is there a way to solve the immediate problem over the long haul, rather than with a swift and immediate left-cross? These are important questions to ask before throwing a punch.

Distance

To be completely frank, it is rare that toxicity can be cleaned. It’s possible. But it’s an isolated occurrence. It’s best to never let the toxic soup in the door. If it’s already there and you’re wading in it, remember:

A long-standing culture of toxins will eventually self-destruct.

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You have to choose where you want to be when that happens. You can wait it out from across the room. That’s risky.

Or you can get out of the pot of potato soup, arsenic, and chives all-together. Then take a long shower to clean and heal.

This is the first step in moving to a healthier place.

It’s also risky. But in a completely different and refreshing way.