Author Bio ▼

Dr Flis has a BA SSc and a PhD in organisational social psychology and is passionate about helping people who lead and work in organisations create better workplace experiences and improving work cultures. Get free resources and tactics on appropriately dealing with negative online and offline workplace behaviours at or contact Dr Flis at[email protected] or  LinkedIn. You can also follow Dr Flis on her blog Twitter or Facebook.
March 22, 2017

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Controlling toxic workplace confrontations

Dr Felicity Lawrence explains how to control confrontations in toxic workplaces, and thereby protect your mental health.

Contemporary workplaces are arguably founded on two Universal Truths:

Universal Truth 1: Employees seeking to retain their job and salary are morally obliged to follow the workplace rules, behaviours and attitudes (e.g., collaboration, respect, etc.).

Universal Truth 2: Workplace employers and leaders seeking employees’ cooperation and assistance are morally obliged to provide an environment safe from physical and psychological injury (e.g., online/offline bullying and harassment).

These terms are violated when:

(1.) An individual or work faction disobeys the first Universal Truth and actively disrespects, bullies or physically threatens other employees, and/or

(2.) If workplace leaders ignore or allow these behaviours to continue, thereby leading to physically or psychologically unsafe working conditions.

I believe the first step to surviving, or even thriving, in negative or toxic work conditions literally starts when we deliberately and consciously set our intention to take action and decide to reassert our control.

We decide to move from ‘reacting’ to ‘responding’. This worked for me in my last public sector role. Learning the strategies and tactics to expedite this mental shift is incredibly empowering and helps boost well-being, mental health and even job satisfaction.

Why? Well, because YOU are back in the driver’s seat and are no longer a passenger. You now have choice when before you felt as though you had none. As I said, this is a subtle, yet powerful, shift in perception.

Controlling toxic work behaviours before it escalates and injures your mental health.

Using tactics to control negative or toxic work behaviours, such as disrespect or intimidation before it escalates through the workplace violence continuum into harassment, bullying and mobbing is a powerful strategy that can enhance your self-confidence and mental health. Studies found that negative or toxic behaviours initiated by co-workers can harm mental health, well-being, and job engagement.

Funnily enough, this research points to another simple truth that I bumped into during my doctorate! The faster negative behaviour is identified for what it is, the faster you stop berating yourself for something you probably can’t (easily) change, the faster you can control the behaviour and reduce the impact on you and others. A simple concept that is difficult to master.

Digging into the HOW and WHY behind toxic work behaviours is empowering.


Homing in on the HOW and WHY behind negative or toxic work acts are incredibly powerful. Why?

In brief, research has confirmed that learning to recognise the early warning signs can help you to fathom why the situation arose in the first place (e.g. ego, fear, anxiety, poor processes).

Not only does this help you to psychologically take the pressure off (again, these behaviours are probably not your fault), once you’ve figured out what is triggering the behaviour you can then dip into your Tailored Response Toolkit and choose your course of action.

The ability to ‘pause, analyse, and respond’ rather than react is tremendously empowering.

The power of staying calm while in the ‘eye of the storm’.

Learning to recognise the impact of fear, anxiety and ego-driven actions on you and others in your workplace can also help uncover why some people simply unravel or blow a fuse in different work situations.

This knowledge, together with some confrontation defusion tactics, can significantly enhance your capacity to remain cool and to respond, rather than react, in the midst of emotionally fraught situations.

Dr Lawrence’s eModule “Controlling Workplace Confrontations” is the first under her Bespoke “Reach Your Full Potential@Work” Bootcamp. It gives prevention and defusion strategies and tactics that help you regain control of negative or toxic work situations with an expert showing you the way. Email [email protected] for more information.

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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Rob McCoy
Rob McCoy
7 years ago

Regarding the first universal truth, if the work culture itself is toxic due to poor management and their lax attitudes and behaviours, are we saying that we could be disciplined if we do not follow suit? Or should the first universal truth be based on the morals of the company as a whole?

Dr Felicity Lawrence
Dr Felicity Lawrence
7 years ago
Reply to  Rob McCoy

Hi Rob – sorry about the late reply. You ask a great question! Based on my research & 25 yrs work experience in the military, private & public sector workplaces, if your employer or work leaders have ‘dropped the ball’ and, for whatever reason, are allowing a work environment where the explicit (employment & governance policies, procedures & rules) & implicit (attitudes, norms, ‘this is the way we do things around here’) culture actively ratifies sloppy or unethical or immoral or bullying or abusive behaviours and attitudes then… ….yes, you could find yourself in a position where you’re disciplined for… Read more »

Controlling toxic workplace confrontations – Industrial Management
7 years ago