I had to admit it. The small amount of resentment I was holding on to was preventing me from moving on in an area that was really important to me. You know how people throw around the term “toxic” a lot lately? Toxic people, toxic relationships, toxic workplaces...It’s a fashionable way of saying a certain person or place leaves you feeling a wide range of negative emotions from drained, apathetic or hopeless to angry and vengeful; which brings me back to my resentment.
Here’s how it happened. I woke up and realized that my cynical view of my “toxic” workplace was based on the false premise that all the responsibility for change rested on management.
“Can’t they see that people keep running for the exits from this place? Don’t they want to keep the good people longer?!” I would moan to myself year after year.
But I chose to stay, despite knowing things would likely never change in the way I thought they should.
Now, while there was no shortage of evidence that the leadership in this place was seriously lacking, it’s easy to forget that we get to decide the kind of workplace we want to work in, the type of leader we want to work for, and take steps to find our ideal workplace.
We always have a choice.
I had made my choice to stay, and this allowed a small trace of resentment to burrow deeply into my thoughts where I wasn’t likely to look. I had spent a good chunk of my professional life in a place that wasn’t ideal for me, and that—not the bad management style—was the source of my anger. I didn’t take it out on anyone or throw fits at work; no one could tell I was unhappy, but I knew things were off in moments of being passively critical, cynical, or smugly pleased hearing about the most recent co-worker who’d finally moved on, leaving a perilous hole in the workflow.
The important insight from all this is not just in gaining the recognition of the power of choice in life, but that there are forces at play when we experience conflict of any kind—internally with ourselves, or externally with others. That was the missing puzzle piece for me.
I learned through my coach training that conflict arises when one or more of our cherished values are not being honored, or are not in alignment with what we are saying and doing.
In the example of my unhappy work life, it was my strong values of fairness and justice that were being challenged by a management style that didn’t hold these values as strongly.
I’m guessing here, but based on observation I might say their values are thoroughness and effort—also important values to have; they just weren’t my top values. Consequently, my anger at not making the best choice was misdirected towards my workplace. If I could put the responsibility for change on management, I wouldn’t have to take responsibility for my choices, and that kept me holding on to blame, cynicism and simmering hostility. Once I understood it was about me, the choices I’d made and my values, I was able to let it go, just like that.
What are your top values in life? Maybe once you discover what they are, you’ll find that the source of all conflict and all freedom lies in knowing when they’re being honored or not, and when it’s time to let something go.