Surviving a Toxic Work Environment

Photo: Getty

For eighteen years I worked for a company that valued Extroversion, Sensing and Thinking.  As an INFJ I sometimes felt like I was on a battlefield. Fortunately Judging skills were also considered important, which was the main reason I was able to succeed.

I suspect that this is a trap many INFJs get into – we’re hired for our skills at organizing, streamlining work processes and getting things done, only to find that we’ve ended up in a job that wreaks havoc with our sensitivity.

While it’s not ideal, we can survive in an workplace that’s not compatible with our types. 

Here are some tactics:

Recognize That You Are Different

Every company has its own personality and preferences.  If the company I worked for had been a person I think it would have been an ESTJ.  Social skills, data, analytical thinking and execution were highly prized, while reticence, a process-orientation and sensitivity were seen as weaknesses.  Which explains why I was most successful in positions where my “J” skills were emphasized.  And why I often felt that my feelings were trampled on. 

In this type of environment self-acceptance becomes especially important if you are an INFJ.  You need to realize that, yes, you are different, and that’s ok. And while you can learn many of the skills that ESTP/Js have there will be times you won’t be able to excel in the areas that your company values. You need to allow yourself to be who you are and don’t try to fit in with the corporate “type.”   

Accept the Results of Being Different

There was a point where my career seemed to top out – no matter what I did I couldn’t get promoted past a certain level. During that period the buzz word at my company was “leadership” which our management equated with the ability to make group presentations confidently (I kid you not – it didn’t take much more than an energetic speech and some flashy handouts to get ahead). While I was comfortable presenting material that I was passionate about to an interested group, I failed miserably at the “dog-and-pony” type presentations to large groups who were focused on critiquing my speaking style.  I’m convinced that this stunted my career. 

Which, looking back, is fine with me. 

The corporate philosophy that we should focus on our “improvement areas” implies that with enough work we can excel even where we don’t have aptitude. And while I probably could have eventually learned to be comfortable speaking in front of a hostile group if I’d worked hard enough, I didn’t really want to. I had no interest in learning to act like an ESTJ, I wanted to learn to be the best INFJ possible.  That meant that in my current career there were some areas where I simply would not excel. I had to accept the fact that I’d probably get a mediocre score or two on my performance review and that I wasn’t always going to be a star.

Part of staying in an environment where we’re not in our element is accepting that we’re not going to be able to achieve our fullest potential there. And that’s ok.  We don’t always need to get the “A”, a hard earned “B” or even “C” can sometimes be just as good.  And when we find ourselves in this position there is still much to be learned. We can take advantage of where we are to practice our “opposites” and learn new skills to help us succeed in our next job.

Figure Out What You Need to Be Successful and Ask For It

I used to work in a small group that had to sign off on the specifics for technical projects.  There were three of us and, as a group, it took us some time to process the details of the projects. However we’d always find ourselves in meetings being asked for approvals on the spot.  Our pattern was to approve whatever it was in the meeting, go back to our offices and discuss it, then come back to the group and un-approve it.  As you can imagine, this didn’t work out very well. 

Eventually I figured out that even though we were expected to come up with a decision at the meeting, this wasn’t practical.  I learned to push back and ask for more time, regardless of the pressure we were under to decide at that moment.  After that we were able to make thoughtful decisions that stuck. 

There are times when you don’t have to adjust yourself to fit your job.  You don’t always have to do things the way they’re always done, you don’t even have to do things the way others want them done. You are part of the process, if you need to make changes so that you can be effective, it’s up to you to make them. 

Create Your Own Environment

Many workplaces can seem hostile, but we create our own environment.  Whether you have an office, a cubicle or a desk, there is an area that you can make your own.  Music, small family pictures, even a screensaver of a favorite vacation spot can bring you back to center.

And get out as often as you can.  I used to take my lunch to a sunny park near my office and sit alone and read for an hour.  Often it was the high point of my day, even now I feel the rush of peace when I visit that park.   

Don’t Take Any of It Personally

I have had some terrible bosses over the years.  A couple were the meanest and most self-serving people I’d ever met, and one was so incompetent that he had me write emails for him.  And I won’t lie, I took it all personally.  I hated them, hated my job, hated my life.

But now that I’ve left it all behind I realize that all that emotion was simply junk, a bunch of turmoil over nothing.  Even the worst people you deal with are, at some level, aware of their limitations.  The bullies are mean out of fear, and even if they don’t seem to know it, those incompetent bosses and co-workers are aware, deep down inside, that they aren’t up to the job and live lives full of anxiety. 

And none of it is really about you.  All that bad behavior happens because of lack – your boss might lack skill, or awareness, or even humanity, but, bottom line, it’s about them. 

Balance Your Work Life with the Rest of Your Life  

You are not your job, and your job is not your life.  If you find yourself in a work environment that doesn’t support you, it’s especially important to make sure that the rest of your life is engaging and fulfilling.  This is the time to pick up that hobby you’ve been talking about, make time to play with the kids after work, or get busy on the book you’ve been writing in your head. 

 

 

10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #9 Stop Trying to Control the World

BossyDon’t you just love it?  That feeling that everything is going as it should?  In my blog post The Illusion of Control I talk about how we fool ourselves into thinking we’ve got things under control.

As “J”s we have a natural desire to arrange circumstances, correct problems, make sure that things run smoothly.  Add our “F” energy to that, all that mushy desire to make sure everyone is happy, and we can end up really overdoing it.

It feels good from our end, arranging things for other folks, but I can tell you from personal experience, it’s not fun to be on the other end of that energy.  When I was growing up my father used to decide what was best for me and then badger me endlessly until I did things his way.  I’ve never felt more disempowered and small than I did after giving in to his pressure.

I talked about defining and protecting your boundaries a few weeks ago, but my topic today is about identifying and respecting the boundaries of others. Because, really, the only person we need to control in life is ourselves. The only circumstances we are entitled to arrange are our own circumstances.  The people in our lives have their own approach to solving problems and if they need our help they’ll ask for it.  And yes, we can organize the heck out of committees, events and special occasions, but the only way we can make sure we’re not overrunning everyone else is to ask permission and accept the answer.

Exercise:  Practice Letting Go

This exercise requires that you step out of your routine and pay attention to your assumptions.  This can be difficult for an INFJ, there is often an inherent feeling of correctness to our opinions, they can feel so right that we forget there are other perspectives.  You can overcome this “assumption of correctness” by stepping out of your personal perspective and taking on the perspective of an “observer self.”  As an observer self, you become neutral, watching yourself interact with others as if you’re watching a movie.

  1. Over the next week, start paying attention to the small decisions you make where you assume that your way, or the way it’s always been done, is correct.  These are the little things, like making the assumption that you and your friend will always have lunch at your favorite restaurant, automatically planning to arrive at a movie 20 minutes early, assuming that you and your neighbor will walk at the same time every day (these are all, by the way, examples from my life).
  2. Start letting the other person decide.  Check in with them to see if they want something different.  A casual way to do this is to say something like “We always go to lunch at Scotty’s, would you like to try someplace else?”  or “What time would it work best for you to leave for the movies?  If you’re in a group and plans are being made, try staying quiet and let the group make the decisions without your input.
  3. For each experience ask yourself the following:
      • What was it like to give up control?  Uncomfortable? Scary? Or was it freeing, a relief?
      • What was the outcome of the new decision?  Did things work out worse, better or the same?
      • How did the other person/people respond to being consulted or making the decision?
      • What did you learn?

Exercise: Who Do You Want To Be?

Who do you want to be when the time for decisions to be made?  Think about your role in your family, friends and co-workers lives and design a set of rules for where you want your limits to be.  By deciding before the fact you’re more likely to be aware as you navigate through this tricky terrain.

As an example, here are my rules:

  • Don’t try to “fix” anything for my adult daughter.  This means that if even if I see her struggling with something I don’t jump in with a solution unless asked. Letting other adults work out their own issues is a sign of respect, not neglect.
  • When I’m planning something as part of a group:
      • Voice my opinion as an opinion, not as a declaration of the way things should be.
      • Listen to the suggestions of others openly, recognizing that their ideas might be better than mine.
      • Step back from the desire that everything be planned, stop worrying about what might happen and just let it happen, knowing that I can handle whatever comes up.
  • Ask for permission before planning, “fixing” or taking over someone else’s effort.
  • Take “No” for an answer.
  • Recognize the fact that just because I think my ideas are right doesn’t mean that they really are.

This is the ninth installment in a series of 10 weekly articles about making the most of being an INFJ.  For previous articles visit 10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life.

10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #5 Protect Your Heart

 Heart

I’ve said it before – one of the best things about being an F is how tender-hearted we are. And one of the hardest things about being an F is how tender-hearted we are! 

Like most F’s I seek harmony. And when one of my friends or loved ones is in a bad mood it’s really difficult not take it personally. My natural tendency is to make it about myself – “What did I do?” or “Why is he being so mean to me?” But this is a form of self-absorption: we’re focused on our reaction, on how we feel, rather than what’s happening with the other person. We need to shift the question from “Why is he picking on me?” to “What’s going on with him that’s upset him so much?”

Some Tips for Dealing with Others’ Upsets

Don’t take it personally – When someone else is upset, it’s about them, not you. Even if they lash out at you or blame you – remember that everyone loses perspective when they’re distraught. Keep your cool and give them the gift of your compassion.

Don’t try to fix or soothe them – you can’t – Telling someone the “look at the bright side” or to “feel better” doesn’t do anything except negate what they’re feeling. You can provide a safe and nurturing space for someone who’s upset by just listening and encouraging them to talk about how they feel.

Watch out for perennial victims – I used to work with a woman who always focused on the worst aspect of any situation. When she started a new job she’d immediately identify who “hated” her. Every setback was a disaster, every problem was the worst thing she’d ever dealt with. For years I rode these ups and downs with her, worrying about her latest insolvable problem or dysfunctional relationship. I finally recognized that her life was spent moving from trauma to trauma. I learned to provide a sympathetic ear and bits of feedback when I thought she could handle it, but I stopped getting sucked in to the drama of it all.

Avoid taking on their pain – Your compassion helps, your hurting along with the other person doesn’t. This also goes for all the painful input out there – TV news coverage of disasters or violence, commercials showing abused animals, even graphic movies or TV shows. Staying whole will enable you to use your compassion and caring to fuel contributions to solutions, taking on others’ pain will only weaken and distract you.

I know, all this is easier said than done. But it benefits everyone when you can provide a supportive, calm and grounded environment when someone close to you is upset – I like to think of it as giving the gift of being strong when they’re at their weakest.

Exercise: Who Owns This Problem?

Like the 6 Questions in Manage Those Pesky Emotions, you can use a few of questions to explore the emotions around interpersonal upsets. When you find yourself dealing with an upsetting situation, ask yourself:

  1. Who owns this problem? The person who is impacted by the problem is the owner, not you. In the example above, my friend’s problems belongs solely to her, in no way should they become my problems. The only exception to this is when the other person is a child or a defenseless creature – then ownership is shared by everyone.
  2. Have I contributed to the problem?
    If the answer is “yes” the question then becomes: What can I do to make it right? (and it’s often as simple as apologizing)
    If the answer is “no” the question then becomes: Do I want to help and is it appropriate for me to do so?
  3. What do I want my involvement to be? Make sure that if and how you help is your decision. You should always have final say on how much you want to help, and what contribution you are willing to make.

This is the fifth installment in a series of 10 weekly articles about making the most of being an INFJ.  For previous articles visit 10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life.

10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #2 Manage Those Pesky Emotions

You know it, that flare of anger, that feeling of “I HAVE to say something, NOW!”  I know it well, it’s been the precursor to many of my most inappropriate outbreaks of temper.

Our “F” energy puts us squarely in the middle of the emotion of any situation. INFJs are easily hurt, and in reaction we can end up hurting others. But we don’t have to be at the mercy of our feelings, we can learn to recognize them and control ourselves until we can rationally consider the situation.

Here’s how I do it:

The First Step – Stop!

Unless you are faced with a truly dangerous situation, feeling the simmer of anger or hurt should always be a signal to stop and take stock.  When you feel yourself getting emotional, the first things to remember is, if at all possible, do not react! When we’re in this state our perception is off and our judgment is impaired – these are the times that we say and do things we regret later.  What makes it more difficult is when our emotions are engaged we often feel that we urgently must say something, now!  The combination of emotionality and a feeling of urgency is a clear tip-off that you need to step back and assess the situation.

The 6 Questions

Once I’ve refrained from reacting, I use what I call the “6 Questions” to sort fact from fiction:

  1. What are the bare facts of the situation? (Don’t include emotional information or impact)
  2. What am I telling myself about it?
  3. What’s the fear (or hurt)?
  4. Is there something I can ask someone to find out if my perception of the situation is correct?
  5. Using information from the questions above, what is a realistic assessment of the situation?
  6. What is important here?

An Example

To help you understand how the process works, here’s an example from my life:

My friend Michael was coming into town for a class on a Friday and was planning to stay at my house.  I’d assumed that he was flying in on Thursday afternoon and was prepared to pick him up at that time.  On Wednesday evening he called me and told me that he’d decided to take a flight that got in at 8:30 Thursday morning and asked if I would be available to pick him up.  My reaction was “What??  Oh no!!  I have plans for the morning through lunch – I can’t do this!” At that point I became upset, and felt that he didn’t care at all that he was imposing on me.

If I’d taken this situation through the 6 Questions it would have gone something like this:

1.   What are the bare facts of the situation?

Michael was arriving at 8:30am on Friday and was asking if I could pick him up.

2.   What am I telling myself about it?

He expected me to pick him up and entertain him all day.  He made plans at the last minute without considering how they would affect me.  If I don’t pick him up he’ll be abandoned in San Francisco. 

3.  What’s the fear (or hurt)?

My fear is that he’d be mad at me if I couldn’t, or wouldn’t pick him up

4.   Is there something I can ask someone to find out if my perception of the situation is correct?

I could ask Michael something like “It sounds like you’re relying on me to pick you up.  Is that true?”  I realized after the fact that he would have answered something like, “No, I’m fine, I have other friends in the city that I can hang out with, I just thought it would be fun to spend more time with you.”

5.   Using information from the questions above, what is a realistic assessment of the situation?

Michael is fine, he doesn’t need me to pick him up. 

6.  What is important here?

That I don’t make myself responsible for Michael – he can take care of himself.  

Exercises: Practice Managing Your Emotions

Create a “Trigger List” – List as many as you can think of for each: negative beliefs you have about yourself, negative beliefs you have about others, and negative beliefs about how the world works.  These tend to be your triggers for emotional outbreaks, and being aware of them will help you be prepared.

Learn to Use the 6 Questions – Think of a couple of situations that you were in where your emotions were triggered.  Try running them through the 6 Questions and notice how your assessment of the situation changes.

Practice Breaking – Practice putting the breaks on your reactions when you feel emotional.  Next time you feel yourself getting upset just stop – don’t do or say anything.  Retreat from the situation until you’re completely calm and then reassess your reactions.  Notice any assumptions you might have made and any misconceptions that might have fed into your emotions.

This is the second in 10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life.

Before & After: Navigating Transitions

You're Fired!October 26, 2006 is a “Before & After” day for me.  That was the day I was told I was to be laid off from a company where I’d worked for 18 years.  That day marked a major turning point in my life – I will never be the same person I was the day before.

Externally everything pretty much stayed the same for some time.  My employment didn’t actually end for another three months so I still went to work every day, parked in the same lot, walked the same steps into the building, interacted with the same people.

Internally, however, everything was different.  My world had changed, what was true the day before was now an open question.  The part of my life that had contained work to be done and assumptions about the texture and patterns of my days was now open space.  I found that while this space was scary, it was also exhilarating.

In this space I could create what I want.  It was full of choice, I could choose another job in a new place, choose to do something completely different, choose to take some time to rest, decompress (ahh…) , choose new work to be done, new textures and patterns for my days.

This open space that hits in the “After” period is rich with information and inspiration.  It’s a time where there are only questions, and no answers yet, and it can provide you with valuable information.  Even if new plans and life structures are readily available, at this point we have an opportunity to pause and ask ourselves, “How do I want my life to be different?”

Some Tips for Making the Most of Your Before & After:

#1  Don’t assume that the Before & After day is the day of “the big event” –  By the time I physically left the company, I was well in to the “After”.  The Before & After day isn’t when the external change hits – the wedding day, the day she moves out, the first day of college or that new job.  It’s when the internal change occurs – the day he proposed, the day she told you it was over, the day you were accepted to college or received the offer for your new job.  This is where change starts, when we first hit the bumpy pavement of uncertainty.

#2   Even if you have solid plans for your After, see what information is available during the transition –   Even those folks at my company who were moving into new positions seemed to also connect to deeper, bigger dreams for their lives during this period.  One friend immediately got a new job, but during her transition also reconnected with her dream to be a baker.  Practical for now?  Maybe not.  Yet come retirement time, how great would it be to have already tested those recipes and developed a business plan?

#3  Experience the transition – don’t hide from it –  I have a good friend who recently went through a breakup, and I was impressed by how completely and intentionally she experienced all the emotions that came up for her.  She didn’t try to feel better or escape her feelings of loss, she explored them for meaning and information.  She understood that while these feelings were painful, they also held knowledge that would help her succeed in her next relationship.

How have your Before & Afters impacted your life?  A few questions to think about when you consider your Before & Afters:

  • What did you learn during your transition about yourself and others?
  • What commitments did you make as a result of that learning?  Are you still keeping them? Are they still relevant in the “After”?
  • What are you proud of?
  • What do you wish you’d done differently?

I know that exploring your Before & Afters for information is easier said than done.   Major life transitions are emotional, they provide a breeding grounds for insecurity and self-doubt.   But the ability to pause and pay attention in the midst of chaos not only helps you discover new information, it is a powerful skill to have.

The Discomfort Zone

Map of the East Village neighborhood in Manhat...
Image via Wikipedia

We’re all familiar with our Discomfort Zone.  It’s where we’re stretched, where we’re pushing our edges.  Just the thought of traveling there can make us fearful, and many of us work hard to avoid it.  We try to protect ourselves with a list of  ”I don’ts” – “I don’t drive in the city”, “I don’t make speeches”, “I don’t go to funerals”, or simply, “I don’t know how.”

It’s pretty easy to spot the folks who make a habit of avoiding their Discomfort Zones.  It’s the guy who hates his job but won’t look for a new one.  Or the person who ignores a medical issue.  Or the woman who refuses to go to social events for her husband’s work, leaving him to make excuses for her.

If we go through life dodging our Discomfort Zone our lives get smaller and even, in some cases, shorter.  There are things we need to do to take care of ourselves and manage our lives –going to the doctor when we have those mysterious symptoms, or weathering the stress of interviewing for jobs when we’re out of work.  And there are things we want to do that might require some discomfort – learning a new skill or visiting a foreign country.

The trick to conquering our Discomfort Zone is to simply go there and stay – not forever, not beyond our limits, but long enough to move past our fears and learn what’s there to learn.  I’ve found the more often I go into my Discomfort Zone the easier it gets.  The feeling of “I’ll die if I have to do this” fades and I gain confidence as I move into the experience.

It gets easier because much of what we believe about our Discomfort Zone is fiction.  We dream up exaggerated disaster scenarios – the crowd dissolving into laughter as we make our speech, hysteria at the funeral, getting lost forever in the city.  And, fearing we won’t be able to control what happens, we lose touch with the reality that we are capable of handling difficult situations.

What usually occurs when we venture into our Discomfort Zone is that we do fine.  We even may surprise ourselves and discover we’re better than we thought at navigating the city or public speaking.  But even if our outcome isn’t perfect, even if we’re uncomfortable at the funeral, or give a speech that’s merely serviceable – we still do ok, and that’s often enough to get through the Discomfort Zone.

What’s important is that we don’t let our fears get in the way of our growth.  That we trust in the fact that the Discomfort Zone is only uncomfortable because we make it so.

Because yesterday’s discomfort might just be today’s adventure.

Copyright © 2010    From The Easy Place

Ouch, My “F”ing Heart

Heart

One of the best things about being an F is how tender-hearted we are.  And one of the hardest things about being an F is how tender-hearted we are!

Like all F’s I seek harmony.  And when one of my co-workers or loved ones is in a bad mood it’s really difficult not take it personally. My natural tendency is to make it about myself  –  “What did I do?” or “Why is he being so mean to me?”  But this is a form of self-absorption, we’re focused on our reaction, on how we feel, rather than what’s happening with the other person.  We need to shift the question from “Why is he picking on me?” to “What’s going on with him that’s upset him so much?”

Some tips for dealing with others’ upsets:

  • Shift your attention from how you feel about the situation by getting curious about what’s happening with the other person.
  • Don’t take their moods personally, even if they lash out at you or blame you – it’s not about you, it’s about them.
  • Don’t take on their pain. Your compassion helps, your hurting along with them doesn’t.
  • Don’t try to fix or soothe them – you can’t.  Telling someone the “look at the bright side”  or to “feel better” doesn’t do anything except minimize their emotions.
  • It can be really draining to spend time with someone who is dealing with a prolonged issue, so be sure to take care of yourself.  Give yourself a break and schedule fun time with friends or other family members to help you not get sucked in to the negativity.

I know, all this is easier said than done.  But it benefits everyone when you can provide a supportive, calm and grounded environment when someone close to you is upset – I like to think of it as giving the gift of being strong when they’re at their weakest.

So all you F’s out there, protect that tender heart by keeping it full of love, compassion and the kindness that comes so naturally to you.