Toxic Culture and Your Confidence at Work

Ed Darling
4 min read

What you’ll learn:

  • A story on anxiety in the workplace.
  • Why confidence at work comes from the top.
  • Five signs of a toxic workplace culture.
  • How to reclaim your confidence at work.

Video summary - Confidence at work:

Culture and your confidence at work.

Most of us have experienced it at some point:

  • The infighting
  • The power-plays
  • The petty cliques

It’s enough to tarnish even the most outgoing person’s energy.

But even more corrosive, is when the bad behaviour comes from the person in charge.

For the past few months, I’ve been working with a corporate high-flyer who’s had their self-esteem eroded over 12 months in a new role.

This person is intelligent, interesting, well travelled, and incredibly successful in their career. And yet, they came to me feeling deeply insecure and doubting their own abilities.

While delivering a presentation, they experienced a panic attack for the first time.

But this anxiety wasn’t caused by the spontaneous onset of glossophobia – it was the culmination of months of stress, fatigue and their confidence at work being worn away.

Rather than allowing this bad experience to snowball, they wisely got in touch so we could nip things in the bud, and win back their mojo.

“So, what’s caused all of this?”, I asked…

woman struggling with low confidence at work

Your confidence at work comes from the top.

It turns out, their plummeting self-confidence lay squarely at the feet of one person.

Their boss. 

The person responsible for supporting and nurturing the team, had in fact been undermining them for months.

This was happening in a number of ways. 

Setting unachievable objectives, ignoring critical feedback, overspending on the budget – then worst of all, passing the buck over to everyone else when their reckless leadership began hitting the rocks. 

In his book Extreme Ownership, leadership expert Jocko Willink says:

Leaders must own everything in their world. There is no one else to blame.” 

But this boss clearly hadn’t got the memo.

By deflecting responsibility and heaping blame onto everyone else, they’d created a toxic environment where the team around them (including my client) started to second guess their own abilities.

In modern parlance, I believe the phrase is: “Gaslighting”

Manipulating others into thinking they’re responsible for the problem.

When this behaviour goes unchallenged for long enough, it can be devastating for the people caught up in it. 

  • Doubting their every move.
  • Becoming overly self-critical.
  • Unfairly blaming themselves.
  • Feeling under immense stress and pressure.

All of which – predictably – culminated in my client experiencing a dramatic loss of confidence at work, and subsequent anxiety while speaking in public. 

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5 signs of a toxic workplace culture.

It’s not just your confidence at work that can be affected, it’s also your productivity.

A 2015 study by Harvard found that nearly half of employees experiencing a negative workplace environment reduced their effort and chose to spend less time in the office. 

Here’s a great summary of toxic workplace red-flags you can look out for:

  1. There’s little to no enthusiasm
  2. There’s a pervasive fear of failure
  3. There’s constant dysfunction and confusion
  4. There’s never-ending gossip and drama
  5. There’s high employee turnover

Recognising a few too many of these? Let’s look at some ideas to help – and how my client regained their confidence at work

How to reclaim your confidence at work.

If you’re stuck in such a toxic environment it can feel all-consuming, but there are three vital steps you can take to resolve things.

Speak with someone.

Firstly, get a fresh perspective from someone OUTSIDE the environment. When we’re in the middle of the drama, it’s impossible to see things clearly. Emotions are running high, and our own judgement is clouded. 

In that situation, an outside person can be a life-line of sanity, cutting through the confusion and pointing out the obvious truths: you’re not to blame, it’s the toxic work culture & poor leadership you’re working under.

Remove yourself.

The second step is to extract yourself from the situation entirely. A toxic work culture doesn’t get better over time. Like that mould on your half-finished lunch in the office fridge, it only gets worse.

So unless there’s an imminent change of management, your best bet is to cut ties and move on. Sometimes you don’t realise how bad things really are – until you move somewhere better, and feel your confidence at work suddenly rejuvenated.

Build your self-esteem.

Finally, find ways to bolster your self-esteem (outside of the work environment). Getting involved in new activities, meeting new people and learning new skills can all do wonders for balancing out the drain on your confidence.

Fortunately for my client, they’d quickly handed in their resignation letter – so light was already gleaming at the end of the tunnel.

In the meantime, we got to work on building their confidence from the ground up – improving their voice, body language, communication skills – and taking steps to expand their comfort-zone in a controlled fashion.

Within a few sessions, we’d already begun to tap back into their natural confidence and outgoing personality. 

As a solo business-owner, I’m thankfully unaffected by toxic work cultures (or if I am, I’ve only myself to blame!) 

But the past few months have been a reminder that our confidence is so greatly impacted by the places we work, and the people we spend time with.

Bottom-line: Make sure your company culture is raising your confidence at work, not bringing it down.

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