Toxic People exist in almost every workplace. You are much more likely to encounter one than not and the further you progress towards the top of your organisation, the more likely it is that you will be working alongside, or for, one.
They aren’t toxic in the radioactive, life endangering sense, rather they are toxic in the career limiting sense – specifically your career. They delight in finding minor fractures in the social structure of your workplace, driving enormous wedges into them and sitting back to watch the fireworks. They enjoy bullying those they manage and emotionally tormenting those they work with. They will lie constantly but somehow no mud ever sticks to them while those all around them fall on their swords.
A workplace containing a toxic person will be riddled with distrust and fear. Productivity will be at rock bottom and staff turnover will be through the roof. They care nothing for the good of the organisation or anybody in it. Their only motivation is cheap thrills and personal gain at all costs.
When you find yourself in such a workplace, there are things you should do and there are things you should definitely not do. A 2016 study of Australian workplaces plagued by what the researchers called ‘toxic leaders’ found that the following strategies were not a good idea. This was because they resulted in prolonging stress and fear of the leader:
- Confronting them
- Avoiding, ignoring or bypassing them
- Ruminating on the wrongs done and reliving the feelings of anger and frustration
- Focusing on work
- Taking sick leave (as it provided short-term relief only).
Instead, you must leave your passion for your job at home. You must become a well-mannered, honest, polite, compliant, precise employee who does whatever they are told no matter how pointless. Here are five things you should do that will make life a lot easier when you work for, or with, a toxic person.
Rule 1 – Accept reality
The most important rule is acceptance. You must accept that you are working with a toxic person with psychopathic tendencies. They are not wired the same as you and regard you as a tool for achieving their aims in much the same way that you might regard a photocopier. They don’t care about you at all and nothing you do or say will change that. Every time you try to interpret their behaviour using rules which would apply to you or any other normal person, you will be confused, dismayed and potentially targeted. Do not under any circumstances suffer under the misapprehension that you have changed, or can change, anything about the way they behave. Your options are survival and find somewhere else to work (or hope they do).
Rule 2 – Be businesslike and polite
Before you open your mouth in the presence of the toxic workmate, always ask yourself ‘Am I being polite and professional?’. Do your best to avoid unnecessary contact. This does not mean give them the cold shoulder. It just means you don’t drop by their office for a chat. Whenever you speak to them, do it within the confines of your role and for an explicit purpose.
Rule 3 – Maintain privacy
A toxic workmate will pump you for information they can use against you and others. You can defend against this by not disclosing anything to them and making sure you understand the privacy settings on your social media. Do not discuss anything that is not entirely business related.
Rule 4 – Be honest
Always be honest even when it is against your interests. They will offer you an opportunity to fudge a bit. They might allow you to claim more expenses than you are otherwise entitled to. They may ignore you pilfering from the firm. They may allow you to take credit for something you did not do. No matter how much they make it seem like you’re all in this together, make no mistake, they are gathering dirt on you and they will use both that dirt and the weakness you displayed to manipulate you in the future. Learn to say no – and mean it – when anything slightly dodgy is being proposed. Otherwise they will use your weaknesses of character against you.
Rule 5 – Be prepared
Document every verbal request they make and seek clarity on every instruction. If you are asked verbally to do something immediately follow up the request with a confirmation by email. Retain a copy of the email in printed form. If you are not sure exactly what you are required to do, seek written clarification. If you don’t get it, send a follow-up email saying you didn’t get it, and how you interpret the task. Voluntarily provide regular written updates on your progress. In other words, behave as a competent but compliant slave that documents everything publicly.
In short, you must become an emotionless machine (while at work) if you plan to stay in that workplace. Accept reality and remove all emotional responses from the way you interact with that person. Do everything they ask of you and ensure you document everything. Don’t take anything personally and make sure you have a good support network outside the workplace. Work will become a place you go to perform mindlessly (while you look for another job), but as long as you don’t become vested in that complete waste of your time and talents, it won’t kill you.
David Gillespie is a guest speaker at the Big Ideas Summit in Sydney on Tuesday 30th October 2018, where he’ll help delegates understand how to deal with toxic people in the workplace. Interested in attending? Register here: http://www.bigideassummit.com/big-ideas-sydney