Commentary: Toxic work cultures start with incivility and mediocre leadership. What can you do about it?

One approach recommended by psychologists when dealing with high-conflict personalities is known as the BIFF technique: Be brief, informative, friendly and firm.

When someone says something mean, you might respond, as calmly as possible, along the lines of: “Your comments are hurtful and damage our working relationship. Please, let’s keep things professional.”

If the behaviour persists, approach your supervisor. Again, stay calm. Explain what’s happening and how it’s affecting you. You don’t have to go at it alone either, consider inviting colleagues who can support you, and your claims.

Will this fix the problem? Possibly not. Your manager might simply shrug their shoulders, or arrange a “mediation” that resolves nothing. But saying and doing nothing will almost certainly leave you unsatisfied.

If your manager is the perpetrator, contact your HR department first (if your organisation has one) or else your union. The union can offer advice on other avenues to seek redress.

Statutory agencies such as Australia’s Fair Work Ombudsman, Employment New Zealand and the UK’s Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service have the power to investigate workplace complaints, and to intervene in disputes through formal conciliation or arbitration. But before embarking on such a process, it’s best to get expert advice. You might get justice, but also still need to find another job.

Incivility is unlikely to stop on its own, however. Your voice matters and can help break the cycle.

Andrei Lux is Lecturer of Leadership and Director of Academic Studies, Edith Cowan University. This commentary first appeared on The Conversation.

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