Have you ever been micromanaged at work? Have you been marginalized by a coworker or manager?

Or, have you experienced team members not pulling their weight and throwing endless excuses for their reasons?

If this has happened, you’ve probably asked yourself, Why?Why is it that I am being treated this way?Is there something thatI did? Is there something thatIcan do to change it?

As women, there’s a tendency to assume we did something to warrant others’ actions towards us. We play back the situation, analyze what happened, and think about what we personally could have done differently. And then we sometimes end up in a spin cycle.

We feel stuck. Our confidence takes a hit. The initiatives we are working on stop moving forward in the way we expected or planned for. Our anger and frustration levels reach an all-time high.

So what is causing these people to behave in a way that facilitates such an unhealthy work dynamic?

The Underlying Driver: Fear and Insecurity

I’ve been interviewing leaders and subject matter experts across various industries, disciplines, and roles to understand what commonly creates business inertia on my podcast Strategic Momentum. Interestingly, fear and insecurity are pertinent topics in almost every conversation.

Whether it’s one’s lack of confidence or his/her concern with being threatened or feeling shamed in some way, one’s fear and insecurity is typically the driver of the pain we experience at work. And that pain takes many shapes.

Think of behaviors like bullying or victim-blaming, and actions like deflecting responsibility or undermining your position. These are manifestations of emotional triggers.

Dr. Lamia, a psychologist, professor and author who studies the impact of emotion on adults, teens and kids, says

“Your emotions will drive the decisions you make today…When an emotion is triggered in your brain, your nervous system responds by creating feelings in your body (what many people refer to as a ‘gut feeling’) and certain thoughts in your mind. A great deal of your decisions are informed by your emotional responses because that is what emotions are designed to do: to appraise and summarize an experience and inform your actions.”

At the root of it all, the inertia, their behavior (which feels irrational) and the associated challenges and frustrations that come with it, really stem from that individual’s emotions. As much as we would like to think we act based on cognition, it’s our emotions that drive our actions.

Therefore, contrary to what many of us may have initially thought, an individual’s actions aren’t because they are purposely trying to make our lives difficult. They most likely don’t have an issue with us personally –Though it’s hard not to take things personally.

No matter what the cause, these behaviors and actions can (and do) wreak havoc in a workplace. Multiply one person’s emotions by an entire team, and you can imagine how underlying fear and insecurities impact a culture.

Here’s a summary of the downstream impact:

Emotions → Decisions → Action → The Pain and Anxiety You Feel at Work→ Personal and Workplace Inertia

So What Do You Do About It?

What you have to realize is that this isn’t something you can directly control because at the end of the day you aren’t the cause of it. In fact, empathize with the other person to understand what they are going through themselves and determine what’s causing this fear and insecurity for them.

I know it sounds crazy and completely counterintuitive but listen, observe and analyze to see what’s happening. Use that knowledge to try to build a bridge with that person, befriend them, get them to see that you are on their side and not their opposition. Help them understand the drivers of their actions in a non-threatening way so that they might come to the realize their negative actions themselves. It really might change the whole situation.

Now, admittedly, that won’t always work. And this person or team may never change. But what’s important for you to recognize is that the problem isn’t you. And the sooner you realize that, the easier it will be to compartmentalize the challenges you may be dealing with at work and create a solution. 


  • Connie Steele

    Author | Marketing and Strategy Leader | Host of Strategic Momentum Podcast | Executive Consultant

    Connie Steele is a marketing and strategy leader with more than 20 years of experience working in start-ups, Fortune 500 companies, B2C and B2B businesses. Connie started her business strategy and marketing consultancy Flywheel Associates as well as her internationally downloaded podcast, the Strategic Momentum Podcast, to help business leaders identify how to work through challenges commonly impacting organizations today. Having worked as a corporate executive and outside consultant, strategist, and project implementation lead, she’s seen the challenges from all sides that have inhibited people and the companies they work for from achieving their goals. Her cross-industry, cross-functional experience has provided her a unique perspective on what it takes to realize change in organizations.