Let Go of the Toxic Tie
Have you ever worked with someone who seemed charming at first but eventually turned out to be a real four-letter man or woman — JERK? I have!
And like a caterpillar that finally escapes its cocoon, you waited weeks or perhaps months for that first persona to emerge. It never did!
These types of relationships are what behavioral researchers Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster call workplace fatal attractions. You deal with the person on a daily basis, and they display just enough charm and charisma to keep you from putting one chubby foot in front of the other and running lickety-split into human resources. You think…you hope…they can become a positive role model for you and for others.
In the meantime, the relationship begins to eat you up inside, Crowley and Elster note in “Working With You Is Killing Me: Freeing Yourself From Emotional Traps at Work.”
Subtly at first, then more noticeable, perhaps you start having headaches or it often feels like your stomachs on fire. Then you begin to spend more time thinking about the person and their attitude and behavior than on concentrating on your work. You may no longer look forward to going to work simply because of the toxic nature of that person and the negative atmosphere they create.
Freeing yourself once and for all, the authors say. Involves four steps:
Detection. The first step in problem solving is to identify the problem. The same is true in dealing with a “toxic tie.” Treating a fatal attraction starts first with diagnosing it. “The sooner you can identify a toxic tie, the faster you can manage it,” the authors said.
In addition to the other person's attitude and behavior, your body provides you clues with physiological feedback in pinpointing the problem. If the thought of dealing with the toxic employee results in tightness in your shoulders, a headache or a pain in the neck, or a pain in a lower part of your extremity — in every sense of the phase — there’s a good chance that you’re in a relationship that can only be described as a nightmare.
Detachment. This means separating yourself emotionally and as far away as physically possible from the problem. It means emotionally viewing the other person as objectively as possible and realize that he or she isn’t going to change. Detachment isn’t about turning hostile towards them; it IS about getting real.
What drives most negative relationships, the authors say, is a “conversion obsession.” You become convinced in your own mind that by applying a little psychology or kindness — some TLC — the other person will eventually change. Not!
I’ve learned that at the core of these types of toxic personalities is a lack of self-appreciation, self- esteem and confidence in their ability. They think by trying to control other people, making them feel less human and important, they gain the self-esteem and purpose lacking in their personal lives. These types of people have always seen themselves as victims. They have an excuse for everything that goes wrong and never accept ownership of anything, personal or professional.
about making the choice to change their attitude first, then their behaviors.
It’s all sequential, inside out, not outside in.
Life is all about choices. The words we use and the company we keep, so
choose them both wisely.
Depersonalization. “No mater how many twists and turns you go through with the co-worker, you need to understand a crucial point: you’re not the first person who’s experienced this, and you won’t be the last,” the authors said. “It’s not about you.”
An important first step for you is to not let your co-worker play to your insecurities…and we all have them. The more you are able to de-personalize the relationship, the less control the relationship has over you.
Dealing with the problem. The most effective strategies focus on standard business tools like job descriptions, interoffice memos, documentation of conversations and recording your accomplishments. In other words fight fire with the facts. Keep a daily log of everything you’ve done, your accomplishments, awards, tasks assigned, meetings held and the results of these meetings, what was said at the meetings and responsibilities assigned.
When you deal with difficult or dishonest co-workers, steer clear of personalities. Calmly focus on the issues. Let the truth come to light and expose the other person for what they are. Don’t be too eager to pass judgment yourself. Let other people, your supervisor and other leaders come down on the offender.
Don’t become obsessed with winning or losing a battle or two. Schemers are usually good at winning tactical battles, but often lose the war. People such as these are usually done in — by themselves.
What’s ultimately important for your own emotional well-being is to never give anyone, no matter who they are, your self-respect, integrity and personal dignity. Once you give up these core values, you can never get them back and the person to whom they were given will only want more until you have nothing left to give. That’s a downward spiral from which the recovery is long and arduous. In the final analysis, all we really have is ourselves.
In the meantime, decide whether your job is worth sticking it out with the other person. If it is, then make a decision to remain polite and professional. Keep your objectives strategic. Your goal: Play for the long run.
If you have any thoughts/insights on this or other articles I’ve written, I’d enjoy hearing from you.
Captain George A. Burk, USAF (Ret), motivational speaker and trainer, author, writer, plane crash & burn survivor • www.georgeburk.com • 800-769-8568 • 480-212-6321 ( cell)