Knowing right from wrong is relatively simple. Knowing what kind of person you want to be isn't all that hard either. Living within that framework sometimes proves to be much more difficult.
When I began working at my new job I bonded easily with my supervisor. She's a few years older than me and we have a good deal of life experience in common as well as a shared perspective on the way things should be, and how an office should run. She is a talker. During my job interview she reviewed my resume and asked a few questions and then we quickly moved on to swapping stories of our children, etc. Her desk sits directly behind mine in the business office shared by three of us.
The other occupant of our space shares the long window counter with me. She's the AP clerk and is a single mom of two, not quite 30 years old. In some ways she's a mini-me, a mirror reflection of what I was like at that age. We talk about it and I use the advantage of my experience to tell her how the choices she's making now will affect the rest of her life. We've become pretty close, and since her relationship with her own mother isn't good, she often turns to me with what is happening in her life. We also banter back and forth and laugh a lot, doing our best to keep each other entertained and break the monotony of office routine.
On a good day, all three of us have fun together - laughing, joking, swapping stories and exchanging ideas and information. But on a bad day the mood darkens and the atmosphere in our office very quickly drops to sub-zero temperatures. This happens far too frequently. There are many contributing factors, but high on the list is a bit of jealousy on the part of my supervisor because the AP clerk and I get along so well. Deep down they don't really like each other much and had a major falling out before I came. When my supervisor hired me I think she assumed I would be on her side and join in her very negative assessment of the clerk (who she hired about 18 months ago). But I try hard to get along with everyone and find things in them I can appreciate, even if there are things I don't. Nobody's perfect, including me.
In fairness to my supervisor, the AP clerk has passive-aggressive tendencies and does everything within her power to egg our supervisor on. Since she is totally lacking in respect for authority, a state of contention often prevails. If she is told to do it one way, it is nearly guaranteed she will do the opposite. (In the old days people were fired for insubordination but I think that concept has been lost along the way.)
Additionally, my supervisor is by far the most gossip-addicted individual I've ever met. She does not waste a moment when she and I are alone to tell me everything I never wanted to know about each and every individual who works there. In addition to the "facts" she reports, she feels it necessary to make negative remarks about everyone. It is unending and the few people she likes can quickly be relegated to her permanent shit list for any small infraction or any comment that she interprets to be in reference to her. She is clearly a very lonely and unhappy person.
Thus, I quickly found myself in a situation much too similar to what I used to experience with my sisters - being in the middle while both spend their energies trashing the other to me. At first I attempted to ignore it, or just smile and continue with my work. But apparently they took this as a sign that it was ok to continue. It reached a point where my head would be pounding by noon and by the end of the day I was ready to kill someone!
I have worked very hard in the past two years to overcome my negative tendencies and focus on the positives in my life. It has had a wonderful effect. I like being that kind of person and I am now a firm believer that positive energy attracts more of the same and causes good things to happen. Sadly, the same thing is true of negative energy expended. More than once I spoke to both my supervisor and co-worker about how uncomfortable all the sniping and gossip made me and that I'd like to be left out of it. Things would improve for a few days and then my supervisor would rapidly return to trashing and bashing. It was so frustrating because she IS my supervisor and I don't really want to be put in position of having to confront her repeatedly regarding her behavior. But finally one Saturday I had enough. She came down to the office to visit while I worked (I work alone on Saturday mornings), and spent the entire time on another rant about the AP Clerk. I spoke to her very directly about my unhappiness with the negative work environment but she pretty much blew me off and implied that the problems were all with the clerk's behavior.
I came home from work that day more furious and frustrated than ever before. I sat down and wrote an email addressed to both of them with a carbon copy to our General Manager that I respect very much, and who is very aware of the issues in our office. I told them that as of Monday (now Monday three weeks ago) I was officially declaring myself and my corner of the office a NO NEGATIVES ZONE and I didn't want to hear any more shit about anyone from either one of them! I explained yet again the physical, emotional, and spiritual effects all this contention was having on me and that I was sick and tired of it. I said that it would either stop or I would leave. I sent it off, feeling better than I had in weeks, but also a bit worried about what the response would be.
In typical fashion, the AP Clerk responded immediately with an apology and a pledge to try harder to get along and leave me out of their battles. I didn't hear from my supervisor, but she rarely checks her email at home so she probably didn't read it until Monday morning. I returned to work that morning to find her subdued, but no comment was made (nor has been since) regarding my email. However, she FINALLY got the picture and took my message seriously and has ceased all the gossip and backbiting. The last three weeks have been wonderful - no more stress, no more headaches, no more being angry with myself for getting sucked into the fray. Yes, she has made a couple slips and said something catty about the AP Clerk or asked about her personal life. My response is a direct look and a quick "I don't know anything about that", and then I turn around and pick up some paperwork, making it very clear that any such conversation is not going to continue. It's working and our relationship has greatly improved.
I am by no means a saint and somtimes I say or do things I'm not proud of, but at least this one time I got brave enough to take a stand and it has resulted in a much nicer and more positive work environment for all of us. The General Manager stopped by my office last Saturday morning to thank me for my intervention and the notable effect it has had on reducing tension in the room. There are still days now and then when one of us is out of sorts and things are bumpy, but there are no more attacks. It is a really good start, and maybe - just maybe - practicing her conversational "filtering" skills at work will help my supervisor to be a bit more positive in other areas of her life.
The message here is, "If you are unhappy about the way things are, see what you can do to change them. If you can't change what's happening, see if you can change the way you are responding to it, and remember that attitudes are contagious." I like myself so much better when I am trying to live what I believe!