Finding our Smile in Difficult Work Situations

People Working Together

Question from Yvonne

I have a big problem at work. I have an associate who is a narcissist, and it hasn’t been easy in the past—but possible—to work with her. Now the situation has changed: I have a new boss and she doesn’t like me. Now these two are a team, and they are working against me, not giving me important information, and telling lies about me. They are very unkind and unfair! 

I have talked with them, but it has made the situation more difficult. Now I have lost my smile, feel insecure, afraid and everyday more sadness. I practice meditation every day, but I lose my inner peace.

I work with children and for me it’s important to work in harmony, but these people are making it impossible!

How can I find a way to work with them in peace? How can I lose my fear? How can I find my inner peace again? 

Thank you very much for reading my question.

People Working Together

Answer from Dharma Teacher Kenley Neufeld

Dear Yvonne,

I hear your deep suffering from the relationships at work. And I also hear your desire to continue working with children and to work in harmony with your colleagues. To lose one’s smile, happiness and security is very painful. An experience that I too know very well from my own life. 

For many years I had a colleague that caused me great pain. Whenever I interacted with her, it was difficult and tense. And she also spoke about me to others in a way that wasn’t always truthful. In this workspace, we’d need to interact on a daily basis. And neither of us were going to leave the job. So, what could I do so I didn’t suffer so much? I feel you are asking a similar question.

Through our practices and from listening to our Teacher share frequently about relationships, I realized this person wasn’t going to change. More importantly, my happiness is not the responsibility of this other person. In our practice, we are encouraged to come back to ourselves, to our practice, and learn to have compassion both for ourselves and for the other people in our lives. Compassion for myself was the realization that my happiness is my responsibility. 

My happiness is not the responsibility of the other person.

Compassion for the other person meant identifying something I could use to not suffer so much. I looked for something this person did really well. One positive attribute. This is not necessarily easy, but I identified one thing. Then every time I saw her, I would pull up this one positive attribute into my mind. And slowly my suffering was reduced. I could work with her again. This became a practice and a training. A very concrete solution.

This wouldn’t be possible without staying connected to the dharma (listening to dharma talks), practicing meditation, and seeing my responsibility in taking care of myself. In the 7th Mindfulness Training of the Order of Interbeing it says, “We are aware that real happiness depends primarily on our mental attitude and not on external conditions and that we can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that we already have more than enough conditions to be happy.” Not an easy aspiration! But something we can move toward. This is how we can lose fear and cultivate inner peace. But this doesn’t mean that fear is removed and that we’ll feel peaceful at all times. When we have the fear, we recognize it and take care of it, including how you wrote to us with the questions.

All that said, compassion for oneself could also mean making difficult life changes. If your workspace is unsafe and toxic, and internal processes have not resolved it, then you may need to make a change. But please try the practice suggested above and continue to explore this idea of real happiness, non-fear, and inner peace.

7 responses to “Finding our Smile in Difficult Work Situations”

  1. This was a wonderful reminder to all of us of how to deal with pain and suffering. Thank you and thank you to Yvonne for bravely asking the questions.

  2. You are not alone. Many of us have suffered through painful situations at work. Now, I am retired and all that is behind me and what is my “now“ is that I have a comfortable pension and I am grateful for that and I am glad that I was able to live through the tough times. (I did have to do a lot of breathing…and some crying.)

    One of those times was when I was moved into the office of a woman who seemed to dislike me from the moment I walked in the door. The only explanation I can come up with for how she treated me for the three years that I worked for her, is that there is such a thing as past lives and in a past life I ran off with her husband. 😵‍💫 I was one of the two secretaries she had and every tiny minuscule infraction earned me a lecture that made me feel like a puppy who had soiled the carpet. The other secretary forgot to do something very important (that affected many people) before she went on vacation and my boss said “I’ll take care of it.“ Finally, I was able to retire. One day, my husband and I were eating at a restaurant and who comes in, but my old boss. She sits down at the next table and smiles at us and says to my husband “Beverly was the BEST employee.”

    Hang in there!

  3. I have a big problem with my Sangha! I have a practitioner who is a narcissist! It wasn’t easy in the past but possible to practice with him!
    Now the situation has changed! I came across a new practitioner and he doesn’t like me!
    They are a team and they are working against me!
    They don’t give me important information, they turn their back on me, they are very unkind and unfair!
    I have talked with them, but it has made the situation more difficult!
    Now I have lost my smile, feel insecure in the community, afraid and everyday more sadness!
    I practice meditation every day but I lose my inner peace!
    Some practitioners are making it impossible!
    How can I find a way to practice with them in peace?
    How can I lose my fear?
    How can I find my inner peace again?
    I decided to go, leave the community, I understood that I was not welcomed, but I never knew why I was treated like that? what did I do wrong? Was it, discrimination? I had worked so hard in my way for the community. I felt a very big void and it has taken many years to recover.
    Silence is a form of aggression, ignoring is a form of aggression, turning you back on a co-practitioner is a form of aggression, when there is no supervision on the behavior of some towards others, some get away with subtle violence that in some way is more destructive than physical aggression, and the aggressor hides behind the group, a kind of diffusion of responsibility.
    I remain open for feedback, what did I do wrong to be treated that way?

    • Dario Sanchez;
      I responded to you because my dear friend Trudy experienced almost all the things you described. She is out of that place now, but I was on the receiving end; listening as she told me all that had happened to her, for many years!! When people are verbally cruel and intentionally leaving a co worker out of the loop and or silent and ignoring them; the top two things are to gain power for themselves by putting someone down, wanting to build their small selves up – and extreme jealousy for your wonderful accomplishments and good work, because you have the gift of being of service to help and do what needs to be done.
      Also, in one of my own experiences when I was upset about one of my co workers, a good friend told me; “why be miserable about it now, because believe me, that co worker is Not thinking about you now, it is over”. Anyway, enjoy your life now and be blessed with everything you need.

      • I need to punt things behind and get on with life. I want to visit a monastery soon, when conditions permit I will request the community´s acceptance to do a long stay. I have many good memories from Deer Park and Plum Village, I received very much from the community of practitioners, I feel grateful for having been part of the community. I need to go back and take refuge in de Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, sit and let go.

  4. in response to Yvonne and some of the other commenters, I hear your suffering and I have felt your pain. I have had many jobs and most people like me but there is usually one or two that hate me from the word go. It is very peculiar. i have never really encountered it elsewhere. I think the first thing to do is to remember to always be non-violent unless you need to defend yourself or someone else, and words can be violent. Be aware of your own anger, anger that builds and rises. Remember conscious breathing in this moment, don’t let the pot boil over. don’t act because of an emotion. You or others should not die or be hurt because of an emotion, yours or theirs.

    I remember this saying, ‘your enemy is a great teacher’. I think this is very true and very helpful. Your enemy can teach you a lot about yourself and can also train you to sharpen your behavior in the face of injustice. I think people either get indignant (perhaps rightfully so) or pacifistic bordering on cowardice when faced with injustice. I am guilty of both. If you work with someone who has to table-drum the melody of the song they’re listening to in their headphones then you can use that as an opportunity to widen your capacity to be comfortable with discomfort. If their behaviour becomes malicious then I would suggest going to your superiors. Your enemy being a great teacher can be looked at from different perspectives and I think there are many things you can learn, about yourself, your enemy and preparation for the future.

    God bless,

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