Toxicity in the Workplace!

Toxicity in the Workplace!

By Amber Kossak

We hear a lot about toxic workplaces. Because workplace environments are created by the people who comprise them, I feel it is important to discuss the characteristics of toxic people and how we might deal with them. A toxic person is something you simply cannot ignore, your culture depends on it.  Even if they are your most talented employee firing them might be the best decision you ever made.

Toxic means poisonous. Just as there are a wide variety of poisons in the world, there are many kinds of toxic behaviors. Examples include toxic speech, toxic meddling, intimidators and crazy makers with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personalities.

Crazy makers are especially challenging. First, you never know when you will be meeting the thoughtful, charming Dr. Jekyll or the intimidating, insensitive schemer. Many of these crazy-makers are fully conscious of their behaviors, bullying for the fun of it, then being charming to gain an advantage of some kind, using people for their own advantage. When they make us uncomfortable, it doesn’t bother them. They consider it our problem, not theirs.

Undermining Morale!

What about the liars and deceivers who stain co-workers’ perceptions and undermine morale. 

Some toxic people have a philosophical disposition that leads them to believe their toxic ways are healthy, such as winning through intimidation, or pitting peers against one another, instead of team building.

It’s not that difficult to recognize toxic people. Rather than energizing us, they drain us.  Therefore; we have to have our minds made up we are willing and ready to make a decision. The question is, what can we do?

The Need For Discernment

We first need to step back and discern whether the person is aware or unaware of what they are doing. Many people are simply clueless regarding how they’re coming across. For example, a person may have strong opinions and convictions but be unaware that the manner in which they express themselves comes across as judgmental and demotivational. They may welcome constructive criticism which would only help them grow.

Another reason we need to be aware of toxicity.  Having opinions is a good thing, however, the manner in which opinions get expressed can often be disrespectful, tactless and insensitive. Being frank and honest can be a hair’s breadth away from being brutal and unkind. This person may believe he or she has the company’s best interests at heart.  However; when in expressing their views they trample, rather than invite, kindness, empathy, and compassion into the dialogue that may help solve a problem.

These examples are different in character from the conniver, the manipulator, the back-stabber and the negative cynic who sees everything through a dark lens.

Be aware! If able, detach yourself emotionally from the situation and assess what is really going on. Are you yourself overreacting? Are you doing something unintentionally that escalates the tension between you and the other person?

On the flip side, have you been underreacting, denying what is going on because you always make excuses for other peoples’ bad behavior? Sometimes this bad behavior needs to be called out. Remember a toxic person is something you simply cannot ignore; your culture depends on it.

The Need For Courage

Chronic negative attitudes and negative comments are like a disease that will keep spreading until dealt with.  The Department of Homeland Security called September 25 National Awareness Day. The aim of that day is to remind people that if they see suspicious activity, they should say something about it and report it. “See Something, Say Something®” is their slogan.

This slogan can work in the workplace as well. A slanderous jab at a co-worker and other inappropriate remarks should not be simply overlooked. For the benefit of everyone concerned, it’s needful that such talk be called out as unacceptable, no matter how qualified or powerful!

It takes courage to speak up. It also takes courage to confront. And most important, if it’s an ongoing problem, it may take courage to bring it to the attention of management. What seems self-evident to everyone on your team might still be below the radar at the management level or they might be choosing to ignore.  Unless someone brings it forward, they may assume everything is going great. Their attention might be on other matters completely.

If you are the manager or owner, be aware! Listen and remember even if the toxic person is your most talented employee firing them might be the best decision you ever made.

Have You Ever Been The Problem?

Here are three suggestions for when you’ve been the problem.

  1. Apologize. An apology goes a long way toward clearing the air. It lets others know you are aware of an issue in yourself and are working on it.
  2. Use greater caution in your speaking and interactions with others.
  3. Take responsibility for your behavior. Don’t make excuses.

Change is a challenge. It begins with the recognition that “I have a problem.” Addressing these issues in ourselves will help us except constructive criticism which means we want to become better. When we continuously change for the better it helps our business, and determines what sort of culture we are building. I have personally heard many business owners say they do not know what to do with their employees.  I have also heard of others in one day firing the entire crew.  Remember, a toxic person is something you simply cannot ignore.  As mentioned above toxic means poisonous and when this poison reaches your employees the affect can be deadly!