by Kenden Alfond
Bravo!!! Several of my clients have moved from very dissatisfactory professional situations to new exciting ones. Even though they are physically in a new and better professional context, sometimes they remain mentally caught up with the past – how their previous supervisors treated them, the poor/dysfunctional management of their previous team, the time they wasted, the potential that was squandered.
In the international work environment there is not often a culture of truth-telling. Can you actually imagine going to work and calling for meeting (with your supervisor or your whole team) and actually bringing up the REAL issues?
Added to this, the relationships in the international workspace are not usually growth-oriented – meaning that many staff members are mostly “keeping their head down” trying to survive and get ahead. People cannot or are not trying to make real or authentic relationships.
Putting the truth out there
To work with this obsessive thinking about the past, and to give the client the opportunity to finally express himself/herself about what happened, I invited a client to write the supervisor a frank letter. I am sharing with you the letter below because it touches a truth nerve - what we feel but would never ever dare to say in an organizational setting.
One of the questions that I used to ask myself is “Is this really a good atmosphere to start my professional life?”
You see, I arrived on your team alive and on fire, saying “YES!” to life and my life in particular. I felt your team and my professional position like a deflated balloon – I felt like running for the door.
I am not angry anymore. I was so for a long time but now I am just plain sad. While I was working with you, I was really just trying to survive. Now that I am in a new positive professional atmosphere, too often I think back to my previous position and see the whole things as wastes time and wasted opportunities.
I now have the strength and the distance to clearly explain to you why working with you was a waste of my precious time.
Being a part of your team these past years skewed my perspective about my own worth as a professional and as a human being. In addition, it warped my ideas about international development/humanitarian work in general. I am just now starting to realize how absolutely unprofessional you were to all of us on the team, and frankly I am still recovering from that.
The environment that you created was overwhelmingly negative – one big NO; “That is not allowed”; “This is not what I want”; “That is not policy”. This negativity really thwarted my creativity. It never allowed our team to thrive or to achieve our goals and most important there was no joy in the work environment.
The way you behaved clearly demonstrated that you only cared about yourself and your professional trajectory. You managed up and made it clear that your staff was there for you to use. I wish that you had had the awareness and skill-set to identify the unique gifts of each member of our team and given us all permission to leave our unique mark on our respective and collective work. When I become a supervisor, I am going to remind myself that one of my responsibilities is to help my supervisees uncover their talent
I wish that you would have encouraged me (and used part of your development budget that was left untouched!) to get additional training. This would have made me more invested in the project and also allowed me to contribute more to the overall objectives of the project.
In ending, I want to tell you that I am a human being and a valuable professional. I am now developing and growing professionally every day. I will never ever allow myself to work in such a toxic environment again. I am in a new professional environment where I can begin to say “YES” again to my own gifts and goals, to my health.
This letter was never sent – it did not have to be – the closure was personal. The client wrote it and read it out loud during the beginning of the session and he/she is moving on.
In organizations we are often encouraged to bring up “issues” with supervisors and sometimes there is no safe space to bring up the REAL issues. As a teacher I had said with a smile “sometimes nothing works and that is just PERFECT material for you to work with right now !
Just because it may not be possible to “work things out” and be totally honest in an organizational setting, it is very possible and perhaps essential to work things out just for you. To gain clarity, to drive for closure, to speak your own truth even it is solely for you.
For this client, the act of writing this letter and getting it all down was like breathing clean air after being in a polluted environment for too long.
What actions have you found really helpful to move on and move forward after working in a toxic environment?
What is not finished for you yet – what past events are you tip-toeing around the edges of still?
If you are ready for personal and professional support and challenge – look at our individual coaching programme here
If you know an international worker who is suffering right now – send them our link here. Help make personal/professional development an accepted part of the international work culture.