The Toxic People

I'm writing this on my fortnightly flight interstate as I stare out the window to a beautiful Australian sunrise — nothing beats it.

I don't know who said it first, but we are the country of the big sky and beautiful horizons. And this morning is no exception.

If I was sitting by the window I'd take a photo for you — but instead I'm sandwiched in between two big men in suits.

Last week I sent out an impromptu survey to ask the members of this weekly journal how I can make it better — I was inundated with hundreds of responses. I'll leave the survey open for another 24 hours in case you didn't get a chance to submit your thoughts — jump in here, there are only five questions.

I also opened enrolments to The Strategy Masterclass and have begun welcoming new students into what has been a successful online course teaching the creative industry about strategy — I'll be adding a very specific module on content strategy soon; to complement the other 14 modules.

Amongst it all, I'm being a dad, running a business, and being a friend to the very few friends I have.

This week I helped a friend deal with some toxicity in his workplace — when I say 'helped', I simply sat and listened to his worries and concerns. It was the least I could do — he has done the same for me so many times.

He spoke to me of a person in his business who was spreading toxicity throughout his workplace. Negative conversations, an inability to communicate clearly, ill-treatment of people, secret-cliques and always carrying a dark cloud into meetings. A cloud that is typified by their false assumption that they could run his business better than he can.

And above all, a self-centredness that can only be described as, well, self-centred — the world revolved around them.

Many times this person left others in tears after meetings, showing little to no empathy.

This is a conversation I have had with many business owners throughout my career — and I've been on both sides of this conversation myself, having to confide in my friends when I've had to deal with such people in the workplaces I've worked in over the last (almost) thirty years.

My friend and I shared a glass of wine and, on the back of a napkin we wrote down the different traits of these people.

Toxic People (TP) spread like cancer: They are mostly quite social and spread their negativity and angst to anyone who will listen.
They aim to build a little gang around themselves, much in the same way the Alpha bully in high school did.

They like the thought of their gang believing in their cause, however warped it may be.

In most cases it's about the boss being a dickhead, the business not being as good as it could be and that they would do things differently if they were in charge.

In most cases it's all for nothing when they realise that as an employee they have a very limited ability to enforce the change they're seeking to make, in the way they're seeking to make it.

Semi-Toxins (ST): These people are the hangers-on. Semi-social and more often than not, they're very good at what they do but easily influenced by the hyper-personality of the Toxic Person.

They're in search of an identity in the workplace, and Toxic People give it to them through a warped cause that they can believe in. Heavily influenced by Alpha personalities, ST's are the types that come and go — short stints here and there, to match their TP overlords.

When the Toxic People leave — or are fired — it's common for Semi-Toxins to leave as well. If anything, for a business owner this is good to know — remove one and the others will follow.

Serial Complainers: These are the people who throw grenades and don't stick around to pick up the pieces — not offering any form of solution or recompense. They'll complain and pick at anything that is in their way of winning.

Ask them what winning looks like and they'll look at you blankly.

Do it. It's fun to watch.

Sayers not doers: SND's are a variation of Serial Complainers, instead of complaining they'll put ideas out into the world and then run the other way, leaving you and your team to make sense out of them, and in some cases, patch it all back together again. Instead of grenades, SNDs actually provide some kind of value. They just don't know how to follow through and see that value through to the end. They're too busy seeing the world from a helicopter view and need to learn to let their feet touch the ground from time to time because that's where the rest of us live.

To combat these different forms of toxic people we have to learn to spot them. Calling them out in this way is one step — another is to keep them all at arms length.

Focus on ourselves, not them.

When you do spot them, call them out every time — stand them to account and ask them, publicly about their opinion. Ask them to walk the walk because, mostly, all they do is talk.

And if you're still beaten down by the toxicity these types of people spread consider the lack of mud on their shoes.

They haven't walked through the mud in the way that you have — they haven't fought the battles you have fought nor have they followed through, failed and sometimes succeeded, as you have done.

They haven't stepped foot into the arena — as Brené Brown would say they're sitting in the cheap seats throwing insults.

Which is easy.

Walking through mud isn't.