Why we need to kick fear and toxicity out of the workplace - Newsletter #9

inspiration linkedin newsletter Apr 04, 2024
Maven Musings with Heather Cook Cover Art

Welcome to Maven Musings! I'm thrilled to connect with you. Biweekly, we’ll discuss Global inclusivity, technology, women’s empowerment, and healthy workplace culture through my unique and joyful lens. Join me on a journey of inspiration, positivity, and creativity.

If this is our first meeting, you can learn more about me and my work here. 

Like many of us, I’ve been fired, let go, or had a contract not renewed a few times, but I don't consider those things failures because I have always learned so much from those situations. I have made vats and vats of lemonade out of each of them. 

It’s easy to ask and answer why we need to end fear and toxicity, but it's hard to answer how. But it can be done; it just takes an environment that recognizes these human qualities and offers a platform to work through them. And everyone has to be on board. We need to change the fear-based workplace into a trust-based workplace, and we need to do it sooner rather than later. 


Most people lead with fear because our brains haven’t had a firmware update in 7 million years. Our brains can’t tell the difference between a saber-tooth tiger and a CEO, meaning our “fight or flight” instincts constantly misfire, keeping us reacting and retreating, even when we know it’s not in our best interest. We fear making mistakes because we fear the consequences, whether our lizard brain made them up or not. 

An innocent (or not-so-innocent) comment can trigger the negative programming we received as children, and we’re off to the races. Not only can’t the lizard brain evaluate relative levels of danger, but it also has no sense of time, keeping it always ready to zap you back to childhood and into the movie where you were told you’re not smart or funny or pretty or good enough… long before your conscious brain developed the ability to question any of what you were hearing. It’s important to know none of this was your fault; you were physiologically unable to defend yourself. 

It’s no wonder society (both at home and in the workplace) is a minefield. We all walk around with so much stored negativity, waiting to strike, but we need to take control and flip these scripts. Let’s start with the workplace. 

Unfortunately, the workplace isn’t necessarily the friend place. You are forced to interact with people you may never have otherwise met or chosen, and your livelihood depends on it. It’s not enough to do your job, but you must cooperate and work with others. Like you, they’re all working against their bad programming, often with disastrous results. Too many lizard brains in charge? You have a toxic workplace. 

Here are some examples of how this toxicity plays out: 

  • A manager or executive makes someone cry or humiliates them publicly. 
  • Sales and revenue win all (including/especially a rich culture), and the bully mentality is tolerated and even encouraged. 
  • People's ideas are stolen, credit isn't given when it is due, and bosses demand you choose your job over family or life to move up, get a promotion, or stay employed. 
  • A colleague says in front of a group - you talk too much, are too loud, and don’t understand engineering. 


To me, the opposite of fear is trust, so the first step to banishing fear (or at least taking it out of the driver’s seat) is replacing it with trust. 

Here are some things you’ll see in a trust-based workplace: 

  • People respect each other and embrace the diverse and beautifulā€Æ mélange we all bring. 
  • People are heard and encouraged to express themselves. All ideas are championed and brought to life collectively by the group. 
  • People pause to thank each other, to understand and acknowledge when stress levels are high. 

One more quick pro tip, let’s all remove the word BUSY from our piles of excuses. Everyone on earth is busy, and everyone's busy is precisely the same. Busy divides us and pulls us off the task of connecting. 

The good news is that the workplace can be a giant mirror AND a friend place. If I lead with joy, I create joy. When I trust people, they tend to trust me back. Most people respond to your energy and give it back to you. (Of course, there are jerks. Let’s hope they are the minority.) 

As a theater major, I learned about empathy. Good theater lets you experience life as someone else, which is an excellent introduction to empathy. 


 I always say:

Empathy makes us human.

Action makes us warriors. 

And what is the workplace but another kind of theater? The fear-based workplace script needs a rewrite, starting by adding empathy and trust. There’s a lot more to say on this, of course, but trust is a great place to start. 

We may not save the world overnight, but we’re on task, and our numbers keep growing, and it starts with each of us. Fear and toxicity, we’re coming for you!

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