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.

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