"Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt you,” said a good friend of mine, after I finished expressing my discomfort with a few former colleagues of mine. As much as I wanted to believe grade school was over, and the cliché of being singled out by judgmental cliques was a thing of the past, I had found myself singled out amongst my peers in the workplace.
Although I’m admittedly flawed, I wasn't being called out for my shortcomings though- surprisingly, (to me at least), I was, at the time, being judged for not owning a car. After relocating to a small city with minimal mass transit, I made a personal choice not to purchase a car right away for various reasons. But because of this, I found myself facing co-workers who showcased a sense of superiority after learning about my transportation situation.
For example, I would be hammered with questions such as, "How does the bus work?" Or: "I've only taken the bus like once and I'll never do that again.” Sometimes, it would go as far as: "So, you're going get yourself a car right?” Although the questions may seem somewhat logical, it made me uncomfortable with how much attention was put on something that was so personal to me.
I was fully content with how I was getting to work, and I was on time everyday. Now, don't get me wrong, I consider myself mentally well built and able to handle this sort of subliminal yet aggressive ridicule. Luckily, I was able to move on from enduring an unwanted spotlight at work by putting the entire situation into perspective.
However, the mere thought of people being okay with openly judging colleagues became (and still is) unsettling to me. As much I would like to believe many of us can withstand the pressure of relating in some form to those at work, whether it is socially, financially and physically, it's fairly easy to fall victim to judgmental coworkers in a blink of an eye. Here are my five tips on keeping your cool and rising above toxic colleagues:
1. Remember who you are, and why you're here Whether you’re just working for experience, or within your dream role, it’s important to always embody a winner’s mentality. You're here to win. Point blank. And winning doesn't necessarily mean being the best at something, or reaching a certain level in your career that others perceive as “making it.” Your worth isn’t, even in the slightest, measured by the opinions of others. Be sure to remind yourself of that every day, whether or not you come across people who attempt to steal your shine and confidence. Keeping the focus on your strengths and daily goals will keep your mind occupied away from negative surroundings.
2. Stand up for yourself- in a polite way My mom always taught me to stand up to bullies, or else they'll always target you. Your colleagues aren't necessarily bullies, of course, but they are people who are potentially making you feel bad. My best advice is to never explain your choices or decisions while standing up for yourself. Try using tactical reasoning that turns the spotlight back on them. For example, if a colleague is targeting your physical looks, try expressing how much you love yourself, and therefore, their opinion(s) sounds like a personal problem. In my situation, my strategy was to never explain why I wasn't buying a car, and offering a blank stare whenever the topic of my transportation came up. Don't allow yourself to be a scapegoat for those seeking to make others feel inadequate.
3. Remember, karma is real Believe it or not, the people who are judging you are not only targeting you; they're targeting anyone they feel are inferior to them. So avoid joining in on conversations that involve judging others. No one is perfect, and I've certainly forgotten this rule a few times, but, catch yourself and remember they will do the same to you if they get the chance. Despite your situation at work, karma is real and wronging others will never work in your favor down the road.
4. Switch up your game Switching up your game can work in your favor if strategized correctly. Try cultivating an after work group for women, men or humanitarian efforts. This will not only build your confidence; it will also give you leverage amongst your toxic co-workers. For example, studies show that people who play musical instruments or play sports build high self-esteem and are less likely to partake in drugs and alcohol, in comparison to those who aren’t involved in active hobbies. Why is this so? Well, those who are active in engaging activities have a sense of belonging, purpose and positive challenge’s through their work. If you cultivate and lead a dynamic group at work successfully, it will, no doubt, build your character and help in developing fulfilling relationships with people within your work environment.
5. Know that you are not alone This article was written from the heart and driven by the many stories I’ve heard from friends, family and strangers who have stood up to judging co-workers. The intrusiveness and shallow opinion from others can cut deep, especially for those who may have experienced or witnessed despair, loss, abuse or financial troubles. It’s always important to remember that we are powerful beyond belief, and our confidence can only take a hit from others if we allow it to.