Last week I was talking about a toxic culture and how to avoid getting pulled into the personal “turmoil” of it. There’s no judgment in how you feel, only the recognition that how you feel is real for you; the behaviors of people who either aren’t self-aware or don’t care about their impact on others affect us, and we can end up feeling we are the ones in the wrong.

The problem is other people’s moods and behaviors affect us. I had a boss who, every single morning when I said hello, how are you, would answer… just ok. Such a downer for everyone around him, and yet it probably never occurred to him that he set the tone in the office every morning.  

At work, culture is the atmosphere in the room, the relationships, and the conversations; it’s the values that we carry through in our interactions and actions; and it’s the way we solve problems. It’s the work ethics and patterns that we see show up under stress when we are under pressure to perform, and it’s the leadership messages about the value and worth people have in the organization. In short, it’s the ripple effect of everyone’s emotions and behaviors and the cause and effect of our ability to pause, listen, and ask questions before we choose how to act. Without it, the cause and effect of toxic behavior are reactions and behaviors that cause hurt and harm to others because they are devoid of pause, mindfulness, respect and, essentially, care. 


CARE is a two-way street when it comes to human relationships, one that’s built on trust, empathy, and authenticity. Things can get muddy because we can only cultivate a level of relationship with others to the extent we have one with ourselves, which is also how you can survive a toxic culture: by taking care of you. 

It’s each of our responsibility and possibility to work with ourselves, our inner communication, self-awareness, and how we express and communicate with others. What I mean is that you can reclaim agency over your inner experience even if your outer one is toxic, and it’s not by refusing to interact; it’s by refusing to react. 

It’s like having a friend (yourself) who just listens and observes, smiles, and lets you have your feelings without trying to fix you, change you or tell you what to do. 
Let’s take a look at the C.A.R.E. framework, which you can read about in more detail in my book. 


Take a pause to listen to your inner dialog. Are your thoughts focusing on what’s unwelcome, unfair, and uncomfortable about the behavior of someone? Are you focusing on what you are unable to do, change and achieve? Are you thinking that you are not doing enough, not strong enough, or not good enough to withstand the pressure? We often hear that people just need to be stronger in high-pressure environments, and it’s easy to start thinking that we are just not cutting it and best to give up and leave. NOT TRUE. 

If you had an inner coach cheering on you, what would you like to hear? Say that to yourself instead. Is it a supportive voice, is it an encouraging voice, is it a calming voice, is it a “you got this” voice? 


Take a pause to notice how you are feeling inside. Are you annoyed, angry, or anxious? Of course, you can also feel just fine. However, most of the time, when under pressure, we are not feeling great because pressure builds up in our bodies, and we tense up and breathe more shallowly or even hold our breath and contract our whole bodies. At such times we need to expand inside, using the breath to allow the feelings we are feeling to be. Simply noticing, without fixing, and staying with the feelings and emotions, can be a way to be a friend to yourself. 


Ask what you need so that you can feel calmer, more courageous, and more confident. Focus on how you want to feel instead of fixing or avoiding how you are feeling; how do you want to feel instead? When we focus our attention on what we want, the mind starts finding ways to achieve that. 

And let me remind you that it might be very basic. Like a walk to let your mind disconnect from worrying, more sleep because lack of it makes us feel less confident, more consistent meals because being hangry can make you more reactive, or simply just staying hydrated because that keeps your brain from being foggy and therefore simply drinking water helps your mind have more clarity. It’s also said that being dehydrated can cause more impatience and aggression, so don’t look for the big solutions before you choose the small ones right in front of you. 

Now you might say that you cannot stop for lunch, water, a bathroom break, or a 5-minute walk because others own your time, but you do have agency over how you spend it on the inside. 
So… I dare you to pause, listen inside, and ask yourself what you need and what you can do with what you’ve got. 


Now ask for it. You might not be able to ask the people who are putting pressure on you for what you need, but maybe you can express what would help you achieve what they are asking you for. For example, if there’s an unrealistic deadline or extra work put on your plate, you can, for example say: “Yes, I can do that, but this is what I need to make it happen….” 

I used to have a boss that would not take no for an answer, and “that’s not possible” was just a challenge for him to try. I learned so much from him because instead of getting stuck in what wasn’t possible, I told him what I needed to make it happen. And he said yes. Every time. Because he wanted the impossible to happen, and as much as he was a difficult man to work for, he inspired a constantly courageous and agile mindset.  

So my challenge to you is to think of challenges and pressure as an opportunity to become more aware, adaptable, and agile, using the CARE framework to be your best friend, your observer, your cheerleader, your navigator, and your own inner coach. 

  • Or I can say it this way, what do you need to be more adaptable and agile in the face of adversity so that instead of going through it, you can grow through it?