The word “chaos” has been showing up in the news a lot lately. Especially when used to describe leadership management style. Some people actually thrive in a less-than-idyllic atmosphere. While others find that dealing with a chaotic workplace throws them into mental chaos and causes them to shrink inward.
No matter where you are in the personality spectrum, there are still some things you should know. And some things you might want to think about. Even the most experienced and emotionally agile of us can still get hit by a wild bolt of chaotic lightning.
Tips for dealing with a chaotic workplace
Sometimes we land in a new job and get hit by the chaotic energy on day one. But sometimes, as things change in the company and new bosses or staff enter the picture, the turmoil sneaks up on us.
Here are some things it might help to remember:
One moment can affect an entire lifetime
So you want to jump in the game and join the chaos. And you feel pretty good about your own strategic thinking. And your ability to ride any waves that get generated as a result.
But let’s say your boss is pitting people against each other and you decide to go after someone you think of as weaker. Someone you know your boss is trying to minimize. And you succeed in crushing him, getting some appreciative high fives from your boss in the process.
Success? Not so fast!
First, you’ve labeled yourself to your coworkers as someone who can’t be trusted. And you’ve certainly made an enemy of the person you crushed. But are you absolutely sure that this person or anyone else won’t at some point be in a position to go after you?
And are you absolutely sure that a chaos boss, who is not happy in calm waters, won’t enjoy making you the next target? Think hard about the games you decide to play at work. They can come back to bite you. Or even wind up getting you fired.
And who knows who the next boss might be. Or how long the reputation you earned may follow you when it comes to references. Years later, I’ve run into people who knew me early in my career. A good reputation can serve you well for a long time to come. And a bad one lives on too.
Winning the point doesn’t always win you the game
When dealing with a chaotic workplace, as discussed in the last section, there are ripples that go beyond the moment. So if you decide to play, you better be in it for the long haul.
And you better be sure this is a fit for your personality. Because a workplace filled with games and ongoing chaos can eat at you. Even if it feels like you are winning, the constant game-playing and needing to be on guard can eat away at your health.
So make sure you at least define what the game is for yourself. And what winning would look like. Beyond the moment. Is this really creating a 5-years-from-now YOU that you’ll feel proud of?
For some people. the answer might be yes. We are all different. But many of us would not thrive long term in a world of unending chaos and intrigue. Though it makes a great plot for a movie or TV series.
So is it worth trying to fix things?
Even if you also get energized when the pressure increases (I’ve felt that at times), think about what you’re helping normalize. You might think “we just need to get through this phase and all will be better.” But it probably won’t unless a focused, unified effort toward change is made.
Maybe you actually do want to try to change things. Stand up to your boss or simply call people on their behavior. I’ve seen it work in some situations, if done well. And maybe with the help of HR (see article below for caution) or coworkers or an outside impartial third party consultant.
It could be worth a shot. But again, pretty much everyone has to be on board. In some cases it’s merely a case of managerial incompetence or even inexperience. And with time and effort that can be improved. And chaos can be tamped down.
But let’s not forget human nature!
Often the same boss or cast of characters who created this current chaos will do it again. It’s their nature. For some people, the adrenal juices simply need to flow — even if in the long run it is not a wise or successful management style.
Sadly, for those personality types, that realization usually doesn’t hit until it’s too late. Meanwhile, a lot of productive time has been lost. And a lot of people may have been hurt in the process.
Bosses who thrive on chaos
may feel lost when things are calm
MORE: If your boss is also a bully:
You don’t have to play if you don’t want to
You might worry that you won’t get ahead if you don’t join in what is “normal.” And, in some situations, that may be true. Only you can be the judge of what feels ok for you — and for how long.
But if you prefer not to get caught up in the workplace drama, carve out a place for yourself where your specialty and/or special skills shine. And do your best to ignore the rest.
And if you are thinking this might need to be a short-term job, look for projects and skills to take on in the meantime to help you get to that next job. Hopefully it will be a place where you’ll spend far less time dealing with a chaotic workplace!
Just in case you do need to leave
More posts to help