Vitalia Bryn-Pundyk and Julie Hill, co-founders of Inspired Thinking, offer practical advice that everyone can use for a more pleasant and rewarding work life.
Vitalia, what was the motivation to form Inspired Thinking?
I love telling the story of how Julie and I met through a Toastmasters club called “Voice of Leadership.” Every time I heard Julie speak, I admired her presentation skills. I believe the feeling was mutual. She knew that I had a business acumen with my various other speaking companies. Eventually, she connected with me and started telling me her vision for “Inspired Thinking”. Julie is the founder of “Inspired Thinking”. She invited me to participate as a co-owner and co-presenter in that company. We talked about her process, which she felt passionate about, and her experience in beauty, fashion, health, and wellness. She was able to get a very positive, encouraging and inspiring message out to women of all ages, shapes, and sizes. Not only did she want to consult with them on enhancing their outer appearance, but primarily focus on their inner wellbeing—bringing out their inner beauty and improving their self-confidence.
I was enchanted by her message and wanted to be a part of it. As we continued our conversation, we also realized that there were many women entrepreneurs who needed to improve their networking and communication skills. Together we decided to incorporate a business segment into many of our workshops.
Our workshops are based on a book that Julie and I co-wrote. It includes our favorite A-Z tips on beauty, fashion, health, and wellness. The business segment of the book focuses on networking and making positive connections. We love working together and started a following ( a tribe of family, friends, and fans) all the way back in 2010 when we first joined as partners and then presented our first workshop in 2011.
Julie, what vision do you and Vitalia share?
I had the good fortune in the mid-80s to start with the Aveda Corporation as a junior instructor. I grew with the company into positions as a national recruiter and national sales trainer.
I was excited to be working with women from around the world, of all ages and from all backgrounds. Yet, despite all of their differences, there was one element that I would find in common in many of the women, whether I was working with a model, or a client, a sense of insecurity. It did not make sense on the aesthetic level among these good looking, dynamic women, in so many cases there was a feeling, of “Am I good enough?”
The beauty industry is a double-edged sword. On one side, you want to help women feel good. On the other side, they feel more insecure because of the bombardment of advertising of what a woman of beauty should look like, they are left wondering “Do I fit in?” Therefore, my quest has been to help women with their inner beauty and confidence. That is where I believe true beauty shines through, and it makes a difference on a personal and professional level. No matter what comes your way, if you believe that you are good enough and dynamic enough, you are going to achieve but on the other side, no matter how ostensibly beautiful you are, if you do not believe in yourself, you are going to hold yourself back.
Aligned with the business partner Vitalia, we have had the good fortune of going out and helping women these past years on topics of, beauty, fashion, health, and wellness.
In the interest of wellness, Vitalia, how would you define workplace toxicity?
A recurring theme that Julie and I focus on throughout our workshops and all of our conversations is about maintaining a positive mental attitude. Workplace toxicity is just the opposite of that, but it goes even further. It is more than just a negative attitude. Really, it is workplace negative behaviors: gossiping, jealousy, rumors, disrespect, and a lack of integrity.
There are all kinds of people that we encounter in our personal and professional lives. They are comprised of the adders, subtractors, dividers, and the multipliers. There has been a lot of research done on those four categories of personality types.
Adders are those who leave us feeling more energized. They leave us with something that makes us feel appreciated and they contribute in very positive ways to our lives.
The subtractors are the ones that we find in a toxic work environment. These are the people who just proceed to take and take. They never give back. They might take credit for somebody else’s work. They are the negative people that leave you feeling exhausted and drained of all your energy.
The multipliers are those people who are exponential growers. They are similar to the adders, but they make you feel excited to be around them. They help you grow exponentially. They help you achieve your personal and professional goals. They are your cheerleaders.
The dividers are the most dangerous people of all. They are the destroyers. They seek to divide and conquer. They are the people who are looking to manipulate and destroy both your personal and work relationships. They assist in getting you passed over for promotions. They seem to take away from your life.
The more we surround ourselves with dividers and subtractors that we find in our workplace and personal environments, the more toxic our life experience becomes. We need to find more strategies and ways of eliminating those poisons in our lives.
Julie, are the dividers and subtractors bad by nature?
It is not saying that someone is bad. I do not look at it that way at all. Very often when somebody is coming from a negative place, it could be their upbringing or situations that they are in. They start creating bad habits that they do not know how to change and part of their negativity is tearing others down.
They may present themselves well. They may even appear to want to help, to make a positive difference and to add value. It is behind the scenes that they talk negative and take away. That is where disease sets in because you cannot have an open discussion or an environment of growth where there is toxic energy. It is on a level that people do not always express but you can always feel it.
I used to travel around the United States helping many Aveda Salons with sales and communications. Many times, upon walking into a salon, I would be able to tell the account executive what was causing challenges in the salon. You can feel it. It is in the air. It is the same for any potential client who walks into any business. They are going to feel energized or drained, positive or negative energy. Welcomed and invited in, or not welcomed and they will walk away.
How prevalent is workplace toxicity, Vitalia?
I am not an analyst or researcher on this topic, but I believe that some of the best studies are those that we encounter in our daily lives just talking with our networking circles, our friends, families, and acquaintances. I seem to experience more and more conversations where people are very unhappy with their jobs and their workplace environment. They are looking for a way out because they are not able to make the positive changes. The reason that they are unhappy is not because of the salary they are earning or because of the assignments and responsibilities of their jobs. Primarily it has more to do with their associates, coworkers or, even more so, their supervisors.
There is a personality clash, perhaps, where it is not even just a negative attitude, rather, it is the behavior of not valuing or respecting one another. You feel “less than,” like you are not achieving or moving ahead or contributing because you are always being criticized by your supervisor, manager, or boss in very disrespectful ways. Rather than giving constructive evaluations and feedback or praise when something is done well, the comments seem to be very critical and negative.
I believe that people treat one another based on how they are feeling themselves. The subtractors and dividers are often very unhappy people. They are unhappy with themselves. They feel they are less than competent. They are insecure and have low self-esteem. As the old saying goes, “Misery loves company.” They can only be lifted when they put others down.
Julie, how does living in a toxic environment affect the individual?
First and foremost, it will affect their health. Through Inspired Thinking, we do a number of seminars on health and wellness. We teach people stress reduction techniques, both in their work environment and at home. There are moments where stress reduction is needed. It can be in a meeting or in the hallway conversing with a co-worker. The crucial thing that people must learn to do is breathe. The power of breath can get you through so many experiences. By taking 30 to 60 seconds to breathe, we can learn to respond versus react to a situation. During those moments, you can think of ways to work through a solution instead of reacting in a heated moment.
Breathing also affects your cellular structure. If you do not allow yourself to breathe through negativity and breathe it out, you bring it inside on a cellular level. This results in many facets of health problems such as, high blood pressure. The list goes on with health issues that the individual and corporations deal with on a daily basis.
If you take an opportunity to get outside during a lunch hour or on a break and walk in nature, you will find that you are better able to rejuvenate, revitalize, and refocus when you return to your work environment. You must take control of your own destiny because you cannot always control the entire environment, however, you can control how you react or respond to a situation.
Vitalia, what are your recommendations for improving a negative work environment?
I wish that I could provide an enthusiastic answer or solution to that problem. I do not know that there is a perfect answer to the question of how to change an environment. In some cases you can tell yourself to have a positive mental attitude. “This is just a job. Once you leave your job, you can close the door, leave it behind you and go have an enriching personal life.” Yet, so often our identities are intertwined with our workplace. It is unfortunate that one can impact the other. Our personal life can impact our work environment and our work life can impact our personal life. It is really hard to keep the two separate.
I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that if you have not been able to at least talk with your supervisor about how you are being made to feel and work on some strategies together—if you cannot resolve the conflict—perhaps it is time to leave that work environment. That is what we are seeing more and more people do. Either they are looking for other jobs in other corporations or they are now looking to start their own businesses.
I want to encourage those entrepreneurs that are starting their own businesses not to think of themselves as being jobless. Instead, they should think of themselves as being job free. There is a real difference to that kind of thinking and what it can do for your mental state of wellbeing. Sometimes that is the only solution and, you know, sometimes it happens to have the happiest outcome.
Julie, beyond taking a deep breath, is there anything that people can do to retain their health despite what goes on around them?
There is a quote from Gandhi that I take to heart and want to share: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” In other words, be the change that you wish to see in your work environment. Through my journey, I often hear, “You are so upbeat! You are so positive!” I appreciate that people pick that up from me. When you start to act the way you would like to see things be, you start to transform things. First, you transform yourself. Ultimately, however, there is a mirror that happens around you. You start to attract more upbeat, positive people. It is not that all the negative things go away, by no means! But you will notice that the environment opens up, opportunities start to happen for you.
When you start developing healthy habits such as, connecting with nature, eating well, exercising, thinking positive, you take the negative stress and you turn it over. Stress never stops. It is what you do with stress that makes the difference. Do you allow it to affect or infect you? If you want to affect change, fantastic! However, if you allow it to infect you, it is because you are taking it inside and feeling like you are a victim.
Today, more than ever, you can get great tips and techniques. You can Google healthy habits, read books, articles, and attend seminars. Start applying what you learn. Also, surround yourself with people that are living the life you dream to have. Start to mirror what they are doing—something is working in their lives. Also, learn from the people whose lives are not going very well. They are teachers as well. Do not run away from them; learn from them.
Vitalia, your thoughts…
Julie brings up a good point about people from whom she learned. Everybody likes to give advice. You have to be conscientious of whom you are listening to. Are they actually the expert or at least experienced in achieving the goals that you want to achieve for yourself? It is important that you are selective in terms of who you listen to and associate with in order to make those positive connections that Julie was talking about. I also believe that friends are like elevators. They can either bring you up or take you down. So you need to choose your friends wisely. Additionally, you need to make a commitment to stop being poor. P-O-O-R: Passing over opportunities repeatedly.
We need to maintain our focus on achieving our goals and creating a positive environment. If it is not going to happen within the toxic work environment you currently find yourself, you can change that.
You can decide that you are going to project what you want others to reflect back to you or move on and leave those people behind.
Julie, what does personal image have to do with health, particularly corporate health?
You can learn to dress well, get the right haircut, and apply makeup properly–all wonderful things that are important to making you look and feel great. However, I firmly believe that the foundation begins with believing in yourself. Without question, I have experienced people who walked into a room and turned every head. It was not because they were wearing designer clothing, it was, in the way they carried themselves. In contrast, I have met people who were dressed great and had the latest haircut but lacked inner beauty and confidence and they were not noticed or remembered. When a person looks great and feels great, they can uplift themselves and others. It can create a wonderful, healthy environment. Let your personal image be one of beauty, fashion, health, and wellness!
At our last workshop I spoke about inner beauty. I explained to the audience how it was that Julie and I became connected. Beauty, fashion, health, and wellness are Julie’s areas of expertise. She introduced me to the topics. I have become very enthusiastic as well, however, initially I worried about what I could contribute because I grew up not feeling very beautiful.
I shared a personal story on what it was like growing up. As a young child, I was once knock-need and had to wear ugly, brown, bulky corrective shoes to straighten my scrawny little legs out in elementary school. As a young teen, I struggled with severe acne that requred a dermatalogist’s attention, had to wear braces to correct a crooked tooth and a severe overbite, and was taunted by kids on the playground for being multi-lingual, not having expensive designer clothes, but rather garage sale and Grandma’s hand-sewn clothes, as well as having an unusual ethnic name did not help. As a grown woman, I have struggled life-long with my own egzema (a non –contagious yet none the less, hereditary and inconvenient dry, itchy, and scarring skin condition exacerbated by stress,) as well as not to leave out my own obvious weight issues. I spoke with an accent because English was not my first language. I even had a speech impediment. (and yet today, I am a professional speaker.)
I also had a pageant background, participating in children’s pageants, teen pageants, and even Miss America. Participating in those systems helped me to gain confidence in my stage presence, talent performance, interview skills, and in public speaking. Physically, I felt I was not enough. I was concerned about whether my hair was blonde enough. I changed my hair color all the time. Were my eyelashes long enough? Were my nails polished? My teeth white enough? Was my height tall enough? Was my tummy flat enough, my rear small enough, and on and on, etc!
All of these things played on my psyche in terms of self-confidence from my physical appearance. Having confidence must come from inner beauty and knowing that you are so much more than the shell that you are on the outside. It does not have anything to do with designer clothes. Fashion helps to enhance what you already have on the inside. If you are confident and feeling beautiful on the inside, there is no designer outfit that is going to make you feel any better. We all know first impressions are made in a split second. People judge a book by its cover, even if they say, “Never!”
We are the book that enters the room. People are going to make a split second decision about whether they are going to be attracted to you, become friends with you, do business with you, interact with you, or distance themselves from you. There is some value placed on the outer image and fashion appearance, but none of that can help you if you have not worked on yourself inside first.
Julie, how does self-confidence influence perceptions about our work environment?
No matter what is going on in our world, professionally or personally, if we take care of ourselves first and foremost, we can start to handle whatever is coming at us. When you are confident with yourself, you are able to create confidence in others. If there is a stressful situation and you believe in yourself, you will have the ability to walk through the situation much more rapidly and learn from it. Through your actions, you will be able to inspire others to become healthier in their habits and ultimately in their interactions.
Write down two people you know who have great self-confidence, contact them to take them to lunch. Ask them questions on how they became so confident in their lives, what challenges they overcame. Ask about some positive daily habits they do and would they like to share them with you!
The more a person believes in themselves and practices healthy choices, the more they will be able to change not only themselves, but the world around them!
Vitalia, what one action can people take immediately to improve their image?
It is our responsibility to be mindful of the attitudes we carry within us. Attitudes are contagious. You would be surprised at how easily those around us will match our expectations as well as our attitudes. Those around us will reflect our attitudes back to us so check yourself twice in the mirror and check back often. The number-one thing you can do to improve your image, both inside to make you feel better and outside for a more attractive appearance, is to begin with a smile. (….and chances are good that others will return that smile.)