Boys Behaving Badly, Girls Gone Wild? How To Let Go of Toxic People at Work.

Dawn Burke Bad HR, Career Advice, Coaching, Communication, Culture, Current Affairs, Dawn Burke, Driving Productivity, Employee Coaching, Employee Development, Leadership, Managing People, wellness, Women, Women in the Workplace

What a week.Kavanaugh. Facebook rants from friends. Republicans. Democrats. Men. Women. It’s all been holistically pretty toxic. I’ve felt the need to shower about 14 times.  

I think it is safe to say the nation (world?) witnessed an incredible live, on-air, case study of what real life, toxic behaviors “look” like. Also, I believe we witnessed toxic behaviors demonstrated in a very real work environment as well. The hearings were a part of someone’s work, after all.

The hearings also illuminated behaviors I have endured, toxicity-wise, as many of you have, at work. So how do you handle toxic people at work? Especially your boss. This is a hard one, because “letting go” of toxic people, especially ones you love, or ones you are forced to comply with at work, typically brings some heartbreak with it.

A few places to start:

 

  • Know you don’t have to “let go” of toxic people as much as you need to set boundaries. If you are dealing with a toxic individual in your personal life, you have the option to completely “let go”. Not so much at work. So instead of being done with the person, focus on setting boundaries.

I’ve struggled with boundaries my entire life. I like to be liked, and I’ve always felt it appropriate to be somewhat deferential to my supervisors. This has been two strikes against me when toxicity was thrown my way.

Creating boundaries is an essential part of living a healthy, balanced life. Creating boundaries with employees (and allowing employees to create their own boundaries) is an essential component in achieving results. Also, believe it or not, employees like to know their boundaries even if they don’t admit it.

Boundaries aren’t always necessarily high walls you build around yourself; rather they are guidelines on what you will accept and what you cannot in order to feel whole and healthy. There can be a little flexibility with some people – however with abusive, toxic people, absolutely not.

  • The tell-tale sign you are dealing with a toxic person: you make yourself “small”.  This is both physical smallness and mental smallness.

The Kavannah hearings illuminated this in a huge way. For instance, after watching, I was able to accept I worked for an extremely toxic CEO who used deliberate tactics to make his direct reports feel diminished and small as a method of control. Toxic people make others feel small so they can feel big.  Toxic leaders make smart and courageous people feel small so they can hold on to their status quo.  

It’s pretty damaging for both men and women. If you can’t leave your boss, then quickly and swiftly trust your gut, know you are not imaging things, and create those boundaries. If that doesn’t change the dynamic, look for another job.

  • If you see people treating your co-workers in toxic ways, say something. You may be interpreting what you see incorrectly (but it’s not likely). The strength of a coalition is more powerful than the voice of one.

If the toxic person’s behaviors are addressed with more than one piece of data (the voices of several employees), there is a fighting chance the behaviors can be corrected. Don’t fall in the trap, or make excuses in your head that “this behavior is just this person’s sense of humor,” or “she’s the boss, she can do what she wants”. If you see something, say something.  

I’d love to hear your thoughts. In the meantime, I’ll still self-reflect on how to set better boundaries, trust my gut, and even see if I’ve fallen in the trap of “behaving badly” unintentionally.

I hope you do too – work should be safe, not toxic.

Dawn Burke

Dawn Burke, founder/advisor for Dawn Burke HR, is an HR leader, speaker and writer specializing in new HR practices, engagement and workplace culture. Her HR/leadership career has spanned the last 20 years, most recently serving as VP of People for Birmingham, AL’s award-winning technology company, Daxko (And yes, Kris Dunn and Dawn are making Bham the HR capital of the world! Who knew?). You can also check her out at DawnHBurke.com and a variety of other interesting places. Google her, it’ll keep you posted on what she is up to.