Jenny can’t help but pick on the new girl and Linda is working on strategies to defuse the bully. Meanwhile, Chris can’t figure out how to explain to his authority figure what went wrong with his project and John is too indifferent to care.

Scenes from the local high school, perhaps? More like scenes from inside many businesses.

We grow up, but we don’t always grow out of bad habits. For better or worse, we don’t escape the influence of our peers. This isn’t always bad, of course. When someone is willing and able to serve as a mentor in a professional environment, and you are open to the guidance, it can be just as valuable as a salary.

But too many of us are being held back by our peers. We acquire their bad habits, their cynicism, their negativity. Unlike the positive role mentors can play in our lives, this other kind of peer influence comes at a great personal and professional cost.

We know that workplaces, particularly at larger organizations, are political environments. What we don’t often realize is how caught up in the “games” we are and how much they hold us back.

One study on this topic found that 75% of employees have witnessed mistreatment of coworkers sometime throughout their careers, 47% have been bullied during their career, and 27% admitted to being a target of a bully in the last 12 months. These numbers may seem staggering, but they ring true to me, based on my decades of experience in high-level positions at organizations in various industries.

Nor is this kind of behavior confined to just the rank and file. Workplace bullying and other bad habits are found at the executive level as well.

Consider the person who always seems to have a conversation going on the side, conspiratorially giggling with a friend in a meeting. Make you feel on the spot? Or think about the boss who always starts the meeting with a snarky comment about somebody who isn’t in the room. Make you wonder what he’s saying when you’re the one not in the room? These may not be direct displays of bullying, but it’s bullying nonetheless, and it’s complicated to know how to handle, especially when the bullies are high ranking.

It’s tough to navigate these waters alone. That’s where a thinking partner, an executive coach who is outside your organization, can be a real asset, a true advocate for you.

By breaking down and analyzing difficult professional relationships, your executive coach can help you achieve real clarity.

Identifying self-limiting behaviors — These are habits you may not even be conscious of…the snarky comments, the half empty glass, the negative assumptions.

Handling bullies — Stolen lunch money and playground fisticuffs may be a thing of the past, but bullies are still with us, albeit using different methods. Fortunately, there are smart, empowering ways to handle these negative influences in our professional environments.

Need for accountability — Things go wrong, and sometimes the hardest part is just explaining it, so we avoid the issue, cast blame where it doesn’t belong, and toss up other distractions, none of which is helpful.

Removing barriers to your professional success is the goal, but working through these issues has meaningful personal rewards as well. Nobody has a perfect day every day, but we spend a lot of time in the workplace. It should be a place that produces feelings of optimism and excitement, not negativity and indifference.

Do you sometimes feel like you’re still in high school when you’re at work? Let’s connect and discuss how to overcome these frustrations.