Dealing With Toxic People at Work (or in Your Life)

Have you ever had an encounter with someone at work who is just TOXIC? You know, their personality has ways of flippling everyone’s switches, pushing all the wrong buttons, and making life miserable for the few minutes you might be together.

Hopefully, you don’t have to deal with such disruptive personalities like this very often.

As a leader in your organization, you usually have a little leverage to avoid toxic people, but sometimes they are simply unavoidable.

Call it karma or the vibrations in the universe, but from time to time, I have to deal with toxic personalities.

As an executive coach, I usually have clients who are focused, motivated, and eager to learn new things, grow, and implement change. For that, I am very grateful.

Get updates via email

Yet every so often I run into a client engagement where I find a really toxic personality.

Toxic people at work

This happened to me recently. Well, actually, it was a situation that was brewing for months.

I had taken on an engagement working with a team of people. The chief executive was a good guy. He had everyone’s best interest at heart and he ran a ‘tight ship.’

As I got to know all of the members of the leadership team, I learned there was one person who was the proverbial “rock star”. This manager was responsible for one-third of the organization’s budget.

The programs this person ran were highly rated, well-loved by customers, and had all-around great reviews and feedback. But behind the scenes, this person could be hard to deal with, demanding, and off-putting (to put it all mildly).

There was a body count in this person’s wake; that is, people who had crossed the manager’s path and gotten destroyed for having done so.

It seems I was destined to be the next target of the wrath.

For reasons of client confidentiality, I have to stop here with details. Suffice it to say I was put in a situation of having to take my own medicine, follow my own coaching, and be the “physician healing thyself (err myself).”

Enter the Message

Many years ago I met a professional who had turned her career away from corporate day-to-day. She had become a successful writer and sought-after speaker.

Her name is Marsha Petrie Sue (yes, she married a boy named Sue – her joke). In her best-selling book, “Toxic People: Decontaminate Toxic People at Work Without Using Weapons or Duct Tape” (I love this title), she outlines a concept she calls TLC.

This stands for Take it, Leave it, or Change it.

I’ve found this to be simple, yet powerful advice for dealing with toxic people who may come into my life. TLC is the perfect formula for dealing with toxic people at work.

Angry person blowing steam

Here’s How It Works:

TAKE IT – You may need to be ready to consider the idea of just taking the circumstance or situation as it is. Stop complaining about it, stop interfering. Just accept it.

In this mode, you agree to NOT try to fix it. YOU just stop letting it get under your skin. You accept things the way they are.

Hard to do? Absolutely yes, especially if your personality is more likely to want things to be better. However, you will possibly never change someone’s spots.

LEAVE IT – If the company’s job opportunity is perceived to be so bad, then you may need to leave. Give the whole team a break and YOU be the one to leave.

This sounds terrible, especially if you are not the guilty party. But it will be better in the long run.

CHANGE IT – Here’s the C-word. Change is so hard for most people. But it is a viable solution. Change can happen when a person decides on a course of action. In the case of toxic people, change is difficult to achieve but can be worth the effort.

Decide how you might take the person aside and have a discussion about the situation. Outline the facts. Do not project something on the other person by starting sentences with “You…”.

A word of caution. Trying to change someone who is uncoachable or unwilling to embrace change can be a fool’s errand. (See leopard spots comment above).

Understanding Drive, Values and Motives

There is a whole body of work known as Core Strengths. I wrote about this here.

The premise behind core strengths says we all have our values and motives that drive how we operate i.e. our core. From within our core, comes our outward behaviors. It is those behaviors that others around us observe. The people around us don’t know our motives and values, but they judge us on our behaviors.

You might THINK you are doing something for the right reason (values) but the outcome perceived by others may be totally contrary to your core values and motives.

A toxic personality may be operating from fear and intimidation, basically over-correcting their behaviors to compensate for those fears.

bad email news picture

When we see them operating, we are put off by the behavior, yet the reality is that that person may be covering up a deeper sense of inadequacy.

As a leader, be aware of this underlying current of energy that can work for you or against you. Simply, be aware and gauge your action accordingly.

How many times did you find that out about the schoolyard bully?

Count the Cost

Toxic team members can cause disruption and poor communication. Everyone deals with toxic people and difficult behavior at work and at home. Strong leadership skills have to be practiced to manage these situations.

On the business side, better communication leads to reduced turnover and increased profitability. According to Watson Wyatt (now Towers Watson), shareholder returns during a five year period for organizations with the most effective communication were 57% higher than returned for companies with less effective communication.

In addition, colleagues impact the levels of trust team members have for one another. Why should I trust you if I don’t even like you? That is the thinking that exists. Lost trust reduces performance for the team.

Leave a comment. Leave a thumbs up or thumbs down. How do YOU deal with toxic people?

Advertisements