Volume 37 Number 5 | October 2023
Ali Nussbaum, MHHSA, MLS(ASCP)CM, caPM, ASCLS Board of Directors
Have you gone to speak with a co-worker and they snapped rudely at you? Have you ever gone to a supervisor and they brushed you off? These experiences are confusing, hurtful, and personal. It is hard to ignore an event that feels so pointedly directed at you. The reality is these incidents rarely have anything to do with you and the interaction at hand, but rather have everything to do with the other person’s personal situation. They are misplacing their personal frustrations on to the situation at hand. The key to remember is that in most cases: it’s not you, it’s them!
In the laboratory, these negative interactions are often more prevalent for numerous reasons. The two main reasons are the higher-than-average number of type-A/strong personalities, as well as a high level of periodic stress leading to moments of poorly controlled emotional outbursts. Labs draw smart, passionate people who are very dedicated to quality and accurate patient testing. However, coping skills for the real world are not often part of the curriculum and thus, emotions can spill over.
“The first skill that is critical for success in the team dynamic is understanding that behaviors are toxic, NOT people.”
Coping skills are important and can be developed at any age. These skills are crucial for a positive, healthy workplace environment. The first skill that is critical for success in the team dynamic is understanding that behaviors are toxic, NOT people. Once you dub a person toxic, it is very challenging to change your personal mindset about them. This corrupts any future relationship that could be established with this person.
We are all humans with emotions. Emotions exist on a spectrum, and we are taught from a young age how to appropriately display them in public. However, as we all know, some people are better equipped than others to control their emotions. Those who are particularly bad at emotional control may be volatile in their outward expression of their emotions. Some people could be going through a terrible divorce, their kids are sick, or they are being reprimanded at work for something, and you would never know. They go about their daily actions as if nothing is out of the ordinary. But there are those for whom every emotion comes out, and you could become the inadvertent target of their angry expressions.
A key coping skill when working with other humans is recognizing that when you perceive negativity from others, it likely has nothing to do with you. Due to the self-centered nature of our psyches, we tend to think we are the center of all interactions that go on around us. The reality of the situation is that we are the background actors in everyone else’s lives. Thus, in your interactions with any other individual, you are the “extra” in their script. Whatever behavior you perceived during that interaction likely had little to do with you and had everything to do with them.
Victimizing ourselves in toxic, negative situations is a normal reaction, since we are the main characters in our own worlds. Therefore, interactions, especially with colleagues, are taken more personally than is necessary. You must recognize that you are not the victim in every situation but may only be an innocent bystander to someone’s inability to control their outward emotional presentation. When an interaction seems out of proportion, try not to fall prey to the mental trap of victimization. When you have mastered this practice, you can release yourself from turmoil related to unfounded events.
Sometimes when people are struggling with negativity it can become infectious. Without healthy boundaries, you can start to display the same bad behaviors. This could lead to a self-perpetuating cycle of harmful negativity. Lastly, we need to stop making ourselves the victim in every scenario. In most cases, you are a blip that will be quickly forgotten in that person’s day. Therefore, taking their actions personally only makes you feel miserable when they may not register the interaction as being misinterpreted.
By remembering that those who are struggling are likely not aware of how poorly they are being perceived will help you to look past their bad behaviors to the human within. By having a healthy amount of empathy, understanding how they are feeling, but not taking on their burden, you will remain free from being hurt by taking their actions personally.
Ali Nussbaum is an LIS Technical Specialist at HealthPartners in Minneapolis, Minnesota.