I was inspired to write this from an article I read in Psychology Today (June, 2017) called Poison People. It’s a topic that interests many – being with someone we believe is poisonous is at minimum uncomfortable, and can be difficult. I don’t think anyone’s afraid of being physically hurt by a toxic person, but are afraid of being damaged socially or emotionally.
Poisonous, or toxic, behavior is something we see more and more in the workplace. It can be from narcissism or callousness, but more often it’s from the kind of environment everyone’s in. That environment is one where productivity is the only benchmark of success. This kind of atmosphere nurtures uncertainty and mistrust, divides people and forces everyone to hide behind the psychological armoring of manipulation and turf-protection.
I invite you to read the article. What interested me as I read it is that all of us – that’s right, you and me – can be – and will probably end up being – toxic if immersed in a toxic environment for very long.
How can we not? If we know that nothing anyone says is straight up, and that the only thing that matters is who gets noticed first, how long will it be before nobody is motivated by anything but fear of not making it, and “making it” will include others not making it.
In today’s work environment, where more and more of us are treading with our noses just above the water line (or not anymore, it just seems that way), this toxic environment can feel like it’s everywhere. I’ve been to so many networking events lately where there’s this mad rush to hand out cards and spill forth what we do, with little or no interest in what the person we are talking to does or cares about.
Too many of us are scared. And when we’re scared, we’re in stress response. When we’re in stress response, it’s actually impossible for us to be present and available for others. And that’s when We – you and I – become toxic.
What can we do individually to clear out the toxin? At least 3 things:
- Self-cleaning: it always begins with us. If we’re stressed and/or miserable, then we’re also likely heading in that direction. And before we can do anything about our surroundings and others, we need to deal with whatever is making us miserable first. This might mean changing jobs, or discovering what the stress is all about and addressing it. It might mean seeking help, or joining a self-help group. Whatever your choice, begin it, because without that first step, nothing else follows.
- Be the example. If you find yourself in a toxic environment, and in a position of leadership, then you’re in a great place. Because you have the power to start changing things. It may be that you’ll eventually need to relocate or find another job, but in the meantime, you can become a ray of hope for others. And, what you’ll learn is never lost, and can help you find a better job in a non-toxic place next time.
- Engage your empathy. We are all in this together! If you’ve read this far, then you know what I mean. Even the worst offender deserves our empathy and understanding (which doesn’t mean caving in and going along with toxicity).
I want, more than anything, to live in a productive world where the people around me are happy and feel fulfilled. I believe that most of us want that. And sometimes this means first taking stock of our own part in what we see as the problem.
Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist. To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .