The Toxic Personality – Searching for a Solution

23-11-2009 | steve | Uncategorized |

In the Harvard Business Review (April 2009), Porath and Pearson studied rude behaviour in the office, polling thousands of managers and employees across diverse companies. The impact of negative behaviour upon coworkers was significant:

38% decreased their work quality
48% decreased their work effort
66% said their performance declined

Most importantly, a majority of respondents spent an undue amount of energy avoiding the toxic person or worrying about the last incident; time and energy that could have been directed at improving the bottom line.

The toxic personality is very adept at camouflage and claim to be unaware of their behaviours (though I think that Larry’s boss is well aware of his).

There is something you can do! In upcoming editions of Ignition I will dig deeper into solutions, but here are three basic steps to help minimize the effect and strength of a toxic personality:

1.  Don’t turn the other cheek. As with the bully in the playground, a toxic personality requires direct dialogue: targeted feedback that requires courage and a dose of fierce conversation. Remember to focus on the behaviour, not the person, and be specific as to what was observed and felt. “Just the facts” works best here.

2.  Use the power of the team and create a set of norms. Craft a set of guidelines that everyone agrees to. Identify behaviours that are valued and those that are not. Determining the consequences when someone breaks the rules will add strength to the guidelines and allow the group to regulate themselves.

3.  Check yourself. As difficult as this sounds, you may be part of the problem, so complete a self assessment of your behaviours. Are you “greasing the rails” and adding to an already toxic workplace by being silent or joining in? Are you living your values and do they align with that of the organization? You may be surprised to discover that there is a disconnect that needs attention. If in doubt, seek some feedback from a variety of sources to validate your insights.

Addressing toxicity in your workplace isn’t a quick and easy process. Following the steps above will not make all the negativity disappear but it is a start; a spark that can be fanned and encouraged.

When I think of Larry’s situation, some efforts to minimize the impacts of a toxic personality could have prevented the exodus of expertise and talent that has now created a gap in the company he left behind. How much time, money and energy will be required to fill Larry’s shoes?

I suspect, considerable.

The Toxic Personality – a definition

10-11-2009 | steve | Toxic Personalities |

Anyone who knows me well knows that I enjoy delving into personality profiles, behaviours and traits.  As a practitioner of change and workplace performance, my attention turns to the many facets of the toxic personality; how it is impacting our workplace and each other.  With a view as to what makes a healthy work environment you can expect a number of my future blogs focused on this subject.  What strategies, what tactics and what can be done to restore productivity and civility back in our jobs.

Today, I met with Larry, one of the most upbeat guys I know. Larry was so excited about his new job. He loved the company he used to work for so I was surprised by the change. When asked what prompted the decision to move, he related that he had tired of working for a tyrant of a boss. Larry’s story was riddled with examples of rudeness, bullying, sarcasm, incivility, rumour mongering, overblown ego, demeaning emails, and profane language; all the telltale signs of a toxic personality in full swing. Faced with these challenges, Larry made a valiant effort to work around them, but after being exposed to this poisonous person for a period of term, Larry decided he had had enough. He was tired, depressed and “sucked dry” of energy. More importantly, it was affecting his own behavior, and through him his family and friends as well.

Sadly, while Larry has been able to escape such a terrible working environment, Larry’s previous colleagues continue to work with a boss that makes life challenging.

The toxic personality as those who continually show a pattern of behaviour that hinders individuals and teams from achieving their potential. Not just behaviours but “BADhaviours” that breakdown relationships, minimize contributions and stunt performance.

With the economic realities facing companies today, no organization can afford to ignore a toxic workplace and the personalities that foster it. However, exposing toxic elements that exist in the workplace is not an easy process.  In my next blog, I’ll touch on what can be done to identify and help make changes to behaviours.