Q: I work in a small office and my boss sets a very negative tone. I'm just starting out in my career and don't know if this is just something I should put up with; I do really like the actual work I'm doing.
A: Assess your options carefully, but don't settle for a situation that doesn't serve you.
The inner game
Especially since you're new in your career, it's important to know what you want in your work life.
Set aside time to reflect, starting from a point of calm. Breathe, settle in and set aside your feelings on the situation. Let any frustrations or anger subside, and also let go of any thoughts on what you should do that may limit consideration of your options.
Start with the positives. What are the aspects of your position that you like? You've mentioned you like the content of the work; what else stands out? Then think about how important each aspect is.
For example, you may like the clients you work with, the issue areas your agency addresses, the hours, location, and some of your co-workers. Prioritize these so that you know which are key.
Now think about the parts that are not working well for you, getting specific about the tone in the office and describing the effect it has on you. It's important to identify whether it is merely annoying or if it is having a deeper effect on you.
Finally, consider your longer-term goals to assess how well this situation will help you advance. Also think about whether the job offers unique benefits or if you would be able to achieve your goals elsewhere without the downside.
The outer game
While you're still in your current role and before the negativity has a chance to undermine you, consider your alternatives. Talk to other people in your field and in other organizations to get a broader view. Also, get involved with professional organizations to build a more extensive network. In addition to exposing you to other possibilities, it may also help neutralize your boss' negativity.
If you decide that there is sufficient value to stay put, develop a coping strategy. For each of her most annoying behaviors, determine your reaction. For example, if she is a yeller, develop a mental shell that you can put around you until she is done; if she is unconstructively critical of your work, develop sources of more helpful feedback.
Think long term, and remember that change is normal early in a career. While you don't want to run away prematurely, you also deserve to be in an affirming setting. Give yourself a timeline, say, staying for two years, and develop some lines that cannot be crossed. Also set some specific goals regarding skills and experiences you'd like to have so that you maximize the value of the experience.
Get support from co-workers — you're probably not the only person who is affected — and reach out to friends and family, who may be able to tell if the stress is taking too great a toll.
The last word
Don't give up too soon, but also don't settle for a toxic workplace that undermines your quality of life.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.