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Managing A Toxic Work Environment

Strategies for diffusing workplace verbal aggression while maintaining dignity and workplace harmony

Topic: Management/Business
Dr Zina O’Leary

It is a sad reality, but verbal aggression exists in most workplaces. Being shut down, patronizing putdowns, public derision, and shaming are not uncommon ways to manage others. So what do you do? Sit there and take it? Withdraw? Become defensive? Attack back? Well, none of these strategies are optimal for simultaneously maintaining dignity and workplace harmony. The answer? To immediately take yourself out of the spotlight. In this course, we will work interactively to learn how to avoid ‘baiting’, and direct arguments back to ‘topics’ thereby circumventing you as the center of any attack or altercation. The techniques learned in this workshop will help you quickly shut down bullying of you and others while maintaining peace, respect, integrity and self-dignity.

What you'll learn-and how you can apply it

By the end of this live, hands-on, online course, you’ll understand:

  • How workplace bullying manifests in speech
  • The structure of verbal attacks
  • The structure of an effective response

And you’ll be able to:

  • Develop retorts that deflect unwanted attention from yourself
  • Develop retorts that deflect unwanted attention from others
  • Avoid being the target of verbal aggression

This training course is for you because...

  • You’re feeling the toll of workplace bullying
  • You work with one or more toxic people
  • You want to become skilled in managing challenging communication


Having worked in a toxic environment or with toxic individuals.

Recommended preparation:

Recommended follow-up:

About your instructor

  • Dr Zina O’Leary is an adjunct senior lecturer at UNSW (University of New South Wales) and an ANZSOG (Australia New Zealand School of Government) Senior Fellow. Previously, Zina was the Workplace Integrated Learning Coordinator at the University of Sydney Business School.

    Dr O'Leary was awarded her PhD as a US National Science Foundation Fellow (methodology and social psychology) and has a MSc from the University of Wisconsin (social psychology and methodology), and a BA from Rutgers University (Sociology and Psychology). Her area of research expertise is evidence-based decision making and professional skill development.


The timeframes are only estimates and may vary according to how the class is progressing

Introduction (5 minutes)

  • Presentation: Verbal Aggression: A sad workplace reality

Responses to Verbal Aggression (30 minutes)

  • Presentation: Deer in the headlight syndrome
  • Discussion: Our internal response to attack and its cost
  • Q&A

Understanding the Nature of a Verbal attack (25 minutes)

  • Presentation: The two parts of a verbal attack
  • Hands on Activity: Identifying the “subject” and “object” of a verbal attack
  • Q&A
  • Break (5 mins)

Responding to Verbal Attacks (35 minutes)

  • Presentation: Learning to address the “object” ONLY
  • Hands on Activity: Effective responses to verbal aggression
  • Q&A
  • Presentation: Strategies for helping others who are under attack

Challenges of putting this into practice (15 minutes)

  • Presentation: Risks and Benefits
  • Q&A