Toxic Team Members: The Power of Inaction

November 4th 2014

All of us have gotten where we are by being proactive, taking the initiative, being a team player, and doing the right thing. All of us want to get along with our colleagues. 

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So why are some people at work still sucking the joy right out of us? Why can’t we figure out how to deal with toxic team members? Perhaps because the behaviors that have made us successful so far may not be the same behaviors that help us deal with toxicity. 

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Being proactive, taking the initiative, and confronting your offender often won’t work. So what does work? I’ve found that inaction is a pretty decent choice. That’s right: NOT dealing with these people at all might be the most effective response. 

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Colleagues we view as toxic definitely occupy a lot of space in our minds. We cringe at the thought of interacting with them, we look for the sinister intention behind everything they do, and we can’t wait to render a negative judgment on any project in which they are involved.

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This level of negativity toward another person is particularly ugly and entirely human. Every professional I know has felt it. What a complete waste of energy. 

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Here are a few things toxic people have taught me. Each involves changing my own thoughts and behaviors, rather than trying to change someone else. This way, I avoid crashing head-on into all kinds of unpleasantness. And believe me, I’ve learned it the hard way. 

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First, I try to figure out which sore spot this particular person is treading on. Do I think he’s infringing on my territory? Is he making me feel small somehow? Is he trying to make me look bad to someone else? Very often, whoever is annoying me this much is also trespassing on my sense of who I am. That’s when I realize my ego is talking to me much louder than the toxic person is.

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Next, I tell myself it’s likely this person isn’t out to get me, to hurt me, or to make me look bad. She probably isn’t thinking about me at all. She’s likely insecure and socially inept, and has no idea what effect she is having. This story allows me to laugh at myself for giving someone so much room in my mind, when I am occupying absolutely no space in hers. It’s really funny when you think about it.

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Finally, I resolve to continue to be the best communicator and the best person I can be with everyone, including toxic people. I’ve learned to let time pass, understanding that the universe generally takes care of things far more wisely than I ever could. 

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If you are reading this post carefully, you’ll realize that I’m not actually doing anything. No conversation with the toxic person. No whining to the boss. No complaints to HR. I’m simply changing the story I tell myself. It’s a powerful tool, it’s one I can always choose to use, and it’s sometimes the only way to make a bad situation just a little bit better.

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professional development, communication, motivation, happiness

Comments



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Steve Levine
11/05/2014 12:39pm
Love this, especially if you are a non-management level employee. If you are in management or C-level, however, ignoring a toxic team member can be dangerous:http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/30/business/smallbusiness/Reforming-Employees-Who-Are-Destructive-Heroes.html?emc=eta1&_r=0
Kyla
11/05/2014 6:22am
Good post - I'm with you. When you resign as an enemy and totally disengage with someone then you give them nothing to work with. Plus your thoughts can be directed to someone positive. Hard lesson to learn.