Carrie Barron M.D.

The Creativity Cure

Mindsets to Manage an Undermining Co-Worker and Keep Moving

Do good work, keep the focus, and rise above.

Posted Oct 16, 2019

Do good work, keep the focus, and rise above when you get the feeling that a colleague or co-worker does not have your best interests at heart.

A professor emeritus enlightened me as to his views on professional survival. He said, “You have to know who has your back and who wants to see you fall.” He said it sanguine and straight as if to say, “Don’t sweat it, just be savvy.” It can take a while to achieve insight as to who is who. It is troubling to realize that a trusted supporter was not. People have their reasons. Some undermining may be inevitable in all work settings, so it is good to have a few techniques at your disposal. Insight, mindsets and certain behaviors can help.

In the book The Four Agreements by Don Ruiz, a manifesto of Toltec wisdom, one of the agreements is: “Don’t take it personally.” Someone imbued with envy, competitiveness, a sensitivity to devaluation, or the constant feeling of precariousness with regard to a position can create a corrosive ambiance. A co-worker’s rise feels as if something has been taken, even if nothing has. That is unfortunate for them, but you do have to have a way to deal with it. Awareness helps you re-jigger your way of working and with whom you collaborate. Ruiz also says, “Don’t make assumptions.” Direct communication can elucidate and improve the situation with some people, but with others, it fails. Talk together if you think it will help, but if denial or defensiveness abound, take note. Some personalities are entrenched, rigid and interested in always being right. 

What can you do? Intentional buffering, emotional distance, mindfulness, and meditational capacity take you higher, make you more hopeful and can be honed with practice. Our propensity for reactivity can be mitigated with training. Shifting from wrenching immersion to detached observation brings relief. Empathy for what perpetrators might suffer in their own imaginings can help too. Don’t get swept up, act or react with rigor but rather step out, reflect and see. Be curious. Let your mind travel elsewhere.

Staying connected to something transcendent, wise, higher, better, and life-affirming in your own mind, helps. Research shows that warm, brief exchanges with colleagues, several times a day, superficial, yet consistent, can make a difference for well-being and motivation. Share affirmations, inquire about a concern, touch a hand or listen for a minute. Gratitude for those who care about you and others, and who have a positive impact on the work culture helps. Focusing on the positive can be touted as a superficial approach but involves a complex mind shift that is doable with intention. Changing mindsets changes moods.

One esteemed colleague always says, “Just do good work.” Another said, “Just walk parallel.” The use of the word “just” in both cases intrigues me. It suggests a singular focus on the true task as well as a methodology for operating out of the core. A sense of self-possession and staying on track with your values, morals, purpose, meaning, spirituality, (natural or formal) and a rich inner life carries you. It breeds resilience. Good things develop when you are open to the evolution of your own mind and methods.


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