Surviving the ups, downs, and unknowns within the workplace on any given day can be challenging. Trying to navigate your day from morning “coffee” to “commute” home provides ample opportunity to meet, engage, speak with and interact with a variety of people and their accompanying moods.
It’s important, though, to remember that some moody, negative people may be going through a difficult stage in their lives as we all are fighting some type of personal battle. Many of us aren’t even aware of our behavior and don’t know where the off switch is located or don’t have a “bag” big enough to store our “stuff” before entering the workplace. In fact, many times when people act up or act out, it’s due to something personal they are facing such as an illness, family matter or simply lacking some type of emotional or mental support. Although what they probably need is your listening and support (if possible) – the reality is that you do have a job to do and don’t want to jeopardize your career (and wellbeing) by surrounding yourself with someone whose behavior may derail your success.
On the other hand, there’s another type of moody, negative behavior: that of the toxic bully, who will use his or her mood swings to intimidate and manipulate especially in the workplace. It’s this aspect of moodiness that inflicts toxicity around others and can quickly infect a work environment if not spotted and dealt with quickly.
So how can you best manage the toxicity level around you in the workplace?
1. Move on without them.
If you see or know someone who day in and day out creates a destructively dictating emotional atmosphere, then take note: they are toxic. If you are suffering because of their attitude, and your compassion, patience, and general attentiveness doesn’t seem to help them, and they don’t seem to care one bit, then you should stay clear of their path as much as possible.
2. Don’t expect or request change.
By expecting change, you can lower your energy, set yourself up for disappointment and create a resistance in others. Nobody wants to be faced with a tone of disapproval, blame or rejection – especially by a toxic person. You can always make a suggestion regarding an issue or their behavior and let them decide what they will do with it.
3. Don’t be a doormat.
If you’re not careful, toxic people can use their moody behavior to get what they want simply by wearing others down. Although it may seem easier to quiet them down than to listen to them, don’t be fooled. Short-term ease equals long-term pain for you in a situation like this. Toxic people don’t change if they are being rewarded for not changing. Learn to speak up and stand up for yourself. Some people will do anything for their own personal gain at the expense of others – do not accept this behavior. Most of these people know they’re doing the wrong thing and will back down surprisingly quickly when confronted.
4. Set limits.
Toxic people can consume both your valuable time and energy and suck you into the vortex of their issues. Because these issues fuel their drama, they are victims to their own story mostly seeking enablers versus a supportive solution. Recognize that there is a fine line between offering to listen to their problems and getting themselves involved too deep in the negative emotional twists of such complainers. That is why setting limits both in time and distance is necessary in the workplace.
5. They look to their network for support.
Battling toxic personalities on a day to day basis alone can be exhausting. To avoid such nerve racking and emotionally exhausting rituals, surround yourself with people who are supportive and willing to help you should you get caught in that vortex and need a lifeline. In the workplace, this could look like fellow coworkers or friends or possibly your boss or manager if necessary.
6. Focus on solutions rather than problems.
If you find yourself on the receiving end of a venting session from a toxic person, the best way to manage your emotional state is to look for the solutions of the problems they are facing. Focus on listening and try to give that person as much of your presence as possible. Sometimes people just need and want to be listened to. From their, look at any personal development opportunities for that individual that could and improve their circumstances, thus their attitude could shift towards a more positive emotional state and as a result reduces stress (for you and for them).
7. Just the facts please.
This may sound similar in ways to some of the others but this is truly all about your mindset. Toxic people can be difficult as we have already discussed and trying to rationalize let along support them can be futile. Instead of trying to get muddled up in the emotional story and feelings, instead focus on not responding to any drama, and respond only to the facts. In reality, the facts are never that interesting which is why humans create stories to accompany them. When you listen and respond only to the facts at hand, the other person’s toxicity level may subside as you’ll no longer be feeding their story or emotional state.
8. Mind and body.
Your attention and intention is critical for your daily success at work and understanding the need to stay positive, creative and proactive are important ingredients to your overall success. There is no substitute for a good nights sleep. One of the easiest ways to manage any residual work stress is to hit the gym or do any type of physical exercise which will allow you to decompress and recharge. Look for balance and start at a slow and steady pace.
9. Forgive but never forget.
It’s important both in the office and outside to learn from your own mistakes and the mistakes of others. Being uncomfortable can be sign of personal or professional growth. Should you find yourself embroiled with the behavior of a toxic person and the impact is well, impacting you – take a mental note and remember that it’s not permanent but there is a lesson to be learned and that is something you will want to take with you both to your next job and throughout your life. It’s been said that people will walk in and out of your life to teach us certain lessons until we get them, just make sure yours isn’t a revolving door.
10. It’s not you, it’s me.
Most toxic people behave negatively not just to you, but to everyone they interact with. Even when the situation seems personal – even if you feel directly insulted – it usually has nothing to do with you but you may simply be the wrong person at the right time. What they say and do, and the opinions they have, are based entirely on their own self-reflection. That said, it’s a slippery slope as our brains are hardwired for empathy and the mere suggestion that we might have contributed to their current toxic state can suck you in. Don’t let this happen to you and don’t prey victim to the seduction of high toxicity. Remember, there is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally.
11. Time out.
If you are forced to work with a toxic person, then make sure you get enough alone time to relax, rest, and recuperate (as discussed above in #8). Having to play the role of either referee, de facto parent or therapist in the face of another persons toxic behavior can be exhausting. If you’re not careful, the toxicity can infect you. Recognize that even people with legitimate problems and clinical illnesses can still comprehend that you have needs as well, which means you can and should politely excuse yourself when you need to. Sometimes you need to make time for yourself, away from the place you work that doesn’t always make time for you.
Sometimes it makes sense to be sympathetic with toxic people whom you know are going through a difficult time, or those who are suffering from something personal or serious. There’s no question about it, but you still need to separate their legitimate issues from how they behave toward you. If you let people get away with anything just because, then you are making it too tempting for them to start unconsciously using their unfortunate circumstance as a means to an end while disrupting both your personal space and professional workspace.
While toxic people and personalities can look to take advantage of you, you are left to decide whether play the victim or not. Do not allow yourself to be victimized by their emotional state, and instead focus when possible on being compassionate, understanding, respectful and forgiving. If that doesn’t work and the situation persists, you should look to either your immediate boss, manager, supervisor or HR or People Operations Team for further guidance and support. When you delete toxic people from your environment it becomes a lot easier to breathe. Letting go of toxic people doesn’t mean you hate them, or that you wish them harm; it simply means you care about your own well-being.