Toxic behaviors at work and how to deal with them

We live with people who engage in toxic behaviors, even if we don’t call them that. In fact, it is estimated that around 5% of workers have toxic attitudes, according to a study conducted at Harvard Business School. They have such an impact that they are capable of destroying the working environment and the motivation of their colleagues. To neutralize the effect it is better to avoid them than to hire superstars, as can be deduced from the data. In this study, carried out in the United States, it is estimated that the losses caused by the toxic behaviour of a professional are 12,500 dollars a year, compared to the profit of 5,300 dollars of a brilliant worker (these data are made in the market of “free dismissal”, so in organizations where it is not so easy it is possible that the figure was higher). It is therefore necessary to be able to address these situations quickly, so that the problems do not become entrenched. Let’s see how:

The first step is to identify toxic behaviour. There are a thousand and one ways: the professional schemer, the pessimist who absorbs the energy around him, the critic to whom everything seems bad, the manipulator, the climber who attributes successes… At this point it is important to know if the attitude he has is something punctual or is a structural characteristic. You may be living through a period of hard work and complaining about it (and rightly so). However, toxic behaviors are constant, regardless of the position or the moment the company is going through.

Second, you have to talk to the person and expose the problem. Avoid going behind your back, criticizing the other and tiring the rest of the situation (which leads to a toxic attitude, too). You have to face it and have a conversation, which will probably be difficult. In fact, according to the Harvard study, there are many people with toxic behaviors that are characterized by a high egocentrism, trust and neat following of the rules, which causes them to be little given to question themselves. This conversation requires courage to speak and courage to listen.

We may be upset with someone, but we need to listen to understand the other point of view and perhaps discover something positive. I once heard Benjamin Zander, the famous conductor, tell a personal experience with a musician, who was tired of his criticism of how to direct a particular piece of music. One day he decided to listen to it and was surprised. It was his favorite work, he knew it in depth and proposed ideas that made the piece much better.

Thirdly, if there was no success with the previous conversation and if the situation is unbearable, you have to seek help and discuss it with the boss. Sometimes it is thought that a problem of this caliber should not reach the superiors and thus not look like a snitch or something like that. But we were wrong. This type of attitude is harmful, as we have already said. That is why it is everyone’s responsibility to help alleviate them.

If in spite of having said it, there is no reaction for any reason, we are left with the options that are in our hands: beyond changing departments or companies, if viable, we have the alternative of understanding the other as a teacher. Someone who bothers us teaches us something, even if it is patience or training our own limits. At the end of the day, you don’t care if we give you permission to do so. To the extent that we take perspective, we can relativize what happened.

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