How to keep your sanity in an aggressive workplace?

Patricea Pop

9 minutes read

Chasing goals and workplace stress are part of the “normal” in cultures where the focus is only on winning. As you spend more time in such an environment, your mental health begins to falter.

When chasing goals sows stress, pressure, when it generates conflict, dissatisfaction and fatigue you need to learn to change the dynamic and put your emotional equilibrium first.

This approach is very different from the hustle mentality that has been cultivated for years now and which fosters a type of aggression defined by psychologist George K. Simon “covert or instrumental”: that is, confrontation does not take place directly, there is no competition but it is replaced by cunning strategies and premeditated actions carried out behind the scenes.

When no one is talking about the pink elephant in the room and you feel that the positivity is artificial and that in fact there is tension in the air, it’s time to take action and take care of yourself.

1. Know your audience and set realistic expectations

Seeing things as they are is both hard and easy at the same time.

We’ve been taught to overlook and not talk about things that are happening, even when they’re right in front of us.
We often avoid such conversations because we lack the concrete, tangible evidence we need and because the only thing we can rely on is our intuition and the tensions we perceive.

Because our upbringing has not encouraged us to use the messages that our emotions, intuition or body give us, we continue to do what we do for a long time before starting to question it. But once you know your audience and understand what’s going on, you can define strategies that can support you.

2. Understand your role in this context

Perhaps you were slightly naïve and trusting and you failed to “read” the situation for what it is. You have deluded yourself and avoided interpreting the signs you received, always making excuses for what was happening. Or you are far too focused on others and their needs and have failed to take care of yourself.

These are all ways in which you have contributed to the situation unintentionally, and the first step is to recognize what you can change about yourself so that you don’t repeat this kind of experience in the future.

3. Change the rules of the game and put your mental health first

If you’ve become confused, suspicious and distrustful you need to put your emotional balance first. Your mental health needs concrete actions to keep it within normal parameters and these can be things such as: setting healthy boundaries, defining your needs and improving your communication and negotiation skills.

Last but not least, remember that “you can’t read the label when you are in the bottle”. So it’s important to ask for and receive help, especially when you feel you can’t get the clarity that you need.

If the feedback you often receive is

  • It is only you that sees things this way
  • You are too sensitive
  • What did you expect?

and you deeply disagree with it, you need a partner who sees things through a neutral lens.

4) Learn to prepare for difficult conversations

You may feel the need to be loyal to the group and organization and avoid bringing up what is going on. You probably sense that a different opinion isn’t necessarily welcomed and your fear the consequences.

But if things aren’t working for you, it may be time for a difficult discussion. What we do wrong when we initiate such a conversation is that we don’t prepare: we don’t know exactly what we want to get out of the situation, we haven’t written down the points we’re willing to negotiate on and the ones we have zero tolerance for. We need to choose our time, place and words carefully, and above all our attitude.

5) Evaluate if and when you should leave the situation

Such a decision is always a difficult one, especially when your financial resources are tightly tied to that collaboration.

When everything looks great on paper and what you’re experiencing is anything but, you need to honestly define what’s really important to you and why you choose to continue doing what you’re doing. Take the time to look at the situation both from a micro and a macro perspective to see how it affects other areas of your life.

Sometimes all you need to do to improve the quality of your life is to learn to set boundaries with those people at work who challenge you and to cultivate a passion or hobby in your spare time. Other times, you may realize that the battle is long lost and that a radical change is needed.

Remember to give yourself time and patience to explore, test and evaluate your alternatives.

Until you identify a suitable solution, write down two specific actions that you can take to make the situation more tolerable.

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Written by Patricea Pop


It is said that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a simple step and mine started a few summers ago when I wanted to do something for myself, so I enrolled in a coaching programme. This gave me the chance to look at myself from a different perspective: little did I know that it would take me to a different career path, that of being a coach.

After more than 12 years in the corporate world which taught me many lessons and several years of preparation for my new role, I now support people in business to improve their self leadership skills. I think leadership is an inside job and it is part soul searching, part strategy and part relationship skills.

I love writing about work and organizations because it is the place where we invest heavily our time and energy and we often end up feeling stressed, trapped and dissatisfied. My strength relies on my resilience, critical thinking and intuition and I believe it is an honour to accompany someone on their inner journey.

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