After my recent article on toxic workplace, I got a ton of feedback from my inbox from individuals wanting to know if their personal behavior can be deemed as toxic. “I am not a morning person, one had mentioned, so I am not very chatty in the morning. So, I have noticed that when I am ready to talk to people in the afternoon, everyone avoids me.” “Am I toxic?” she proceeded to ask? The second message was from a CEO of a well renowned company. “I am an introvert – we all know introverts and their unique giftings, so I already knew where this one was going. He hardly takes time to talk to his staff, as he prefers his own company and keeps everyone at a safe distant. He prefers to communicate via email – it’s safe – and hardly answers calls. As a matter of fact, he hired a people specialist to handle his team and their needs and addresses his team during their quarterly meetings. Have I been setting the stage for a toxic environment without my knowledge? Came his next question.
So, what then is a toxic behavior? Toxic people are all around us. Some know they are toxic, while others have mastered the art of toxicity. Whereas some have figured out a way to displace their dysfunction behavior onto those around them. Typically, they are very good at what they do and can often influence the most sound minded person to question their own motives and behavior. Toxic people have almost always had a long-standing history of conflict, discord, and turbulence in their lives which has gone unacknowledged and/or unaddressed.
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself – Leo Tolstoy”
There are differences between being a toxic person and having a bad day. It maybe a monday that has you all riled up and as a result you act out on that particular, that’s fine. Everyone has a bad day and may act out as a result. Toxic people however, have a long standing pattern of dysfunctional behavior. We come across these people in every area of our lives but when we have to deal with them at work, whereas it is critical that we understand their behavior so we don’t get caught up their games, it is also important that we realize when our own actions are negatively affecting others so that we can deal.
When Daniel begun his startup he was excited. He founded a tech company that would provide solutions and at the same time better the lives of society. He was going to leave the world a better place, an would be forever remembered for it. Until he begun the hiring process.
Amy was the first person he had hired in his team. Amy had exuded exuberance during the interview process and had come out as a very enthusiastic person. Usually it’s not hard to tell a difficult person, but just because someone is difficult, doesn’t mean they are toxic. She had a strong opinion on matters and she challenged him directly which he appreciated she made him better. They were a strong fit, he could tell. Until Amy became toxic. When your character or personality begin to affect the performance of other people, then there is a high chance that your behavior is toxic. And so did Amy’s.
She begun a behavior that at first sight was sweet, and later on turned sour. She would always drop the ball on a project and when approached, she would apologize profusely, and then drop the ball again. Always leaving the team feel like they were the ones with the problem and not her. Toxic people like to make us think we are the ones in the wrong. Oftentimes they lack self-awareness and truly believe this. If they can get us to buy into that and apologize they feel vindicated. Many of us like to keep the peace at work and do our best to avoid conflict so we will apologize to push that peaceful balance along. In my opinion most people need to learn to be better at apologizing but this doesn’t mean accepting blame when you are not at fault.
Six months later, the team stopped performing.
Victor had been the second member of his team. He was a genius. A strategist and a brilliant one at that. He was good on delivery. He was a performer and led his team towards greatness. But victor had a toxic behavior that kept everyone on edge. He was a volcano. When you have a team member who is a volcano, the game becomes dicey, because you never know with the volcano. They smolder and rumble quietly for days or weeks, then blow. These employees may have a hair-trigger temper or dissolve into tears under the slightest pressure. Either behavior makes those around them uncomfortable and disrupts the workplace. Worst case scenario: The volcano loses it with a customer, damaging your company’s reputation.
However brilliant and revolutionary he was, his team was always on edge. They never knew his good or bad days. At one minute he could be praising and cheering you on, and the next three days would be a series of insults, name calling and silent treatment. It wasn’t long before he couldn’t spur on his team members anymore, and 8 months later his team had quit.
When Mary joined the team, she had been very timid. She was a creative, a graphic designer, and even though she said little if her artwork was anything to go by, she was an art of excellence. Her visuals gave deep meaning to words, and by looking at her graphics you needed no explanation. Usually during work pitches, everyone would scramble for her artwork and visual art to present work to a client, who was always wowed. Mary was a genius. She kept to herself, and communicated with the team on email. In meetings you would always miss her because she would tiptoe in careful not to cause a distraction and the same way she walked in is the same way she walked out – unnoticed.
Because of that, Mary took a lot on her plate. Too much. And was always a yes person and everything could be done. Until one day, it couldn’t. When she was promoted and made the creative lead, she still chose to do all the work by herself, even though she had a team under her, leaving her team bitter and aggrieved. This is because, at first glance, having a martyr on staff may seem like a good thing. They say yes to every project, and no deadline is impossible. But take a closer look. The martyr may prevent others from learning new skills because they soak up all new opportunities or refuse to delegate. They may come to work sick and infect others. Hypercompetitive and controlling, they demotivate co-workers who feel they can’t beat someone who’s willing to say yes to anything and work 24/7.
I could tell you how this ended but something already tells me you do.
When Susan joined the team, from day one she had a tendency to delay things. She was the Administrative assistant and had been brought in to handle some administration matters on the less demanding projects, and her first day of work she had come in slightly late. Her lateness slowly seeped into her timelines and would hand her reports slightly late. Everyone overlooked it because being slightly late, was not so drastic, until it was. She begun to miss important meetings because she had one situation or the other, and when called upon, she would say, “I will get it done” only to later forget. When you have an employee who displays behaviors of a slacker, really there is a problem. Somehow this employee is never around when there’s work to be done. They come in late, leave early and miss meetings. In the off chance they snag an assignment, there’s always an excuse for why they missed the deadline. Because the slacker has Ph.D.-level skills in work avoidance, other team members may be overwhelmed and resentful for taking up the slacker’s, well, slack which eventually is breeding ground for toxic environment.
When Brian joined the organization, he was the most hardworking person known to man. He was a coder, and he would develop codes and stay in longer hours without a complaint. He was revered, so much so that in less time, he was moved to senior management as he developed a team around him. But Brian was a bully. Somewhere on the path to adulthood, bullies learned their aggressive tactics worked. They evolve from taking lunch money in childhood to picking on co-workers as adults. They belittle and insult. They manipulate situations to make others look bad. Bullies especially enjoy positions of power, so they may trample others to get a more visible and responsible position, and that is how Brian got to the top. He hogged the spotlight, he domineered conversations and he made the team always feel small and inferior.
This behaviour is toxic because not only does it spin out of control, but it also causes a downward spiral, and the team begin bullying each other, which leads to a man eat man society. A very ripe ground for a toxic workplace.
In hindsight, toxic behaviours are the matches that light the work environment. Put all these behaviors in one room and you can only have a bonfire, and the end result charred and scared and most times often than not black souls. As I conclude, I urge to check yourself, and how your behavior is affecting those around you, because in principle, we may not be responsible in how we make each other feel, but we are responsible for our own actions.