Thriving in a Difficult Work Environment

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Julie Jaqua found herself in a rare situation: She and her co-workers love going to work each day at GCI Group, a public relations agency in Los Angeles. "The environment is warm and friendly, yet professional. Even as an intern, everyone treated me with tremendous respect," she said. "This creates such a wonderful environment that even with the stress and difficult tasks, I enjoy my work and learn new skills."

Most of us are not as lucky. But we can all survive and thrive in the office without a friendly, supportive work environment. Here's how.

Forget About Fate

Don't leave anything in your career to chance. Put together a profile of your ideal career and employer. Andrea Kay, a career consultant and executive coach in Cincinnati, recommends including your ideal corporate structure, management styles, industry and corporate values.

Speak Up

Don't wait for your employer to initiate discussions about job performance and expectations. "Check in regularly," Kay said. "Find out how you're doing and if your manager's expectations are the same ones you're working on."

Foster Relationships

The better you get along with co-workers, the easier your job will be and the better you'll perform. "It's much easier to work with folks if you get along," said Lisa O'Neill, a public relations account executive at Trinity Communications in Boston. Make an effort to put aside personal differences for the sake of your working relationship.

Give Credit

Give co-workers and subordinates credit for their contributions. Dick Lyles, author of "Winning Ways: Four Secrets for Getting Great Results by Working Well with People," says that competition with coworkers can be fatal. "Embrace this attitude: I win only if you win, and we all win together," he says.

Keep Learning

A static knowledge base quickly becomes outdated and worthless. "Be sure you're in a job where you're going to keep learning," said Anne Pauker, president of The Pauker Consulting Group, a human resources consultancy in Princeton Junction, New Jersey.

Find a Mentor

There's no substitute for the wisdom of others. Pair up with someone who has the skills and insight you need. "That's not necessarily an all-perfect or influential person," Pauker said. "It's someone who can help you learn what you need to get ahead."

Balance Yourself

Living and breathing your job is a sure-fire path to failure. You'll burn out quickly if you don't maintain a healthy balance between your work and personal lives. Be clear with your boss about your personal obligations, and don't let work take precedence over them.

Have Fun

Organize after-hours activities for you and your co-workers. The chance to interact on a non-work level can strengthen your working relationships. Some companies, like GCI, have social committees that plan events each quarter. Jaqua said jazz concerts, dinner or special events are great ways to relieve work-related stress at GCI.

Control the Damage

Most of us will fail at some point in our careers. Some of us will get fired. Don't despair, Kay said. Be honest about your share of the blame and take away a few lessons. "Create a list of lessons that you may have learned from the situation," she said.

Pursue Your Passion

If you love what you do, you'll do it well. "If I don't feel passionate about something, I don't have time to do it," Pauker said. "That's the filter I use." Be just as selective; choose a career and a job that you know will be personally fulfilling.

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