Working in a Hostile Environment

5 ways to improve a bad situation

Posted Jun 25, 2013

From finger pointing to co-workers that bully, we all have experienced, at one point or another, working in a hostile environment. The question is: what do you do about it?  Some folks would say “find another job” while others say “fight back”. Irrespective of which route you choose, a hostile environment is emotionally draining. 

Here are 5 tips on making the best out of a bad situation.

1.  Document, document, document…

Many times I’ve come across people who have selective memory and, for one reason or another, like to call you out in public for a mistake they've made. To combat this type of situation, your best bet is to be on the offense and make sure you document all conversations with meeting minutes or recap notes. It’s really up to you whether you choose to respond back in public or one to one, but at the very least, you will have documentation on what was actually discussed and agreed on.

2.  Disempowering a bully…

Bullies at work get a kick out of humiliating you.They thrive on power. So the next time you feel that you are being bullied, simply say “Do you need a moment?” Keep repeating yourself until the person stops talking. The person will eventually say, “What are you talking about?” and you’re response should be “Well, it seems like you’re getting all worked up and perhaps you need a moment to recompose yourself”. Although this seems simple, what you have done is completely throw the bully off guard. Think of it as shooting a stun gun—your words being electric shocks shocking their system. 

3.  Feeling good about what you do…

Finding a silver lining in a dark cloud can be very difficult, but it’s possible. Focus on something good about what you’re doing at work, such as coaching a peer or having a great relationship with your client. Find something you are doing that makes you proud, and focus on that. I’m not saying it will be easy, but studies have shown that when you start thinking positively about a situation, the less of an impact negative actions will have on you.

4.  Your time is sacred…

Unless you are a emergency room doctor who needs to be on call overnight or is someone who makes a significant amount of money where you get paid to work 24/7, there is no reason why you should be checking your blackberry or any other communication device to access work emails at all hours of the night or weekend. Your time is sacred and you should manage it as such. Take the time to do something relaxing and don’t think about work. Being in a state of relaxation will help you stay calm and will minimize any impact a hostile environment would have on you.

5.  Start networking

Your goal is to get back control of your work situation. Do so, by updating your resume and on your terms, find an environment that is more conducive to the type of environment you want to be in. I’m not suggesting that leaving is the best option but there will come a time where you will just get fed up and depending on your financial situation, you may just give up and quit. Avoid getting to this point by networking and getting ahead of your situation. 

Everyone’s situation is different and hopefully I was able to provide you with broad tips that you can apply to your current environment.Let me know what you think by posting a comment.


Bernardo Tirado, PMP    @thePMObox

Bernardo covers leadership and technology for   In addition to being an industrial psychologist, he’s certified as a Six Sigma Blackbelt, Project Management Professional, Body Language Expert, and is a Train-the-Trainer in Analytical Interviewing.  

About the Author

Bernardo Tirado is an industrial psychologist and project management executive.

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