I was recently asked to speak about toxic relationships on The Morning Scramble with Pat McMahon. We had a great conversation and the information is so helpful, both for employees enduring difficult co-workers, and leadership handling situations with negative middle managers, that I had to share here on my blog.
Employees and employers alike are often at a loss with defining and dealing with toxic dynamics. What we’re talking about is people who are resistant, narcissistic, passive aggressive, manipulative or people who make others feel bad with negative comments, actions or energy. This is a particularly difficult topic because we don’t have protections at work against this kind of behavior – it isn’t necessarily abusive and it’s not the same as Title VI protections which typically deal with discrimination issues. These behaviors are also productivity killers for companies – you end up with entire departments full of toxic personalities, and all the good people give up and go away. Here are some of the questions and answers from this segment:
Why are some employers reluctant to deal with interpersonal conflicts in the workplace?
Many C suite executives are under tremendous pressure and feel pulled in many directions, and while it’s not an acceptable reason to look the other way, it’s the reality. Leadership must make connecting with employees a priority on a regular basis.
Handling a difficult personality also requires some finesse, and that can be intimidating for managers at any level. They could also be concerned about ramifications of messy emotional conversations, or disciplining a middle manager. They may also be reluctant to make a change if that manager’s department is healthy and generating revenue – it’s not right, but it’s a factor.
What are some tips for employers handling a toxic middle manager?
It’s important to determine early on if this was a bad hiring decision or if something has happened in this person’s life recently that’s making them edgier than usual. If it’s a manager who can’t change (or won’t change), it’s time to start moving that person out the door. Sometimes it’s easier to document problems and conversations up to the point of asking for a resignation – you may just have to let someone go. It’s unpleasant, but depending on the issues at hand, it may be the best solution involved. It’s important to remember that angry personalities crush morale, and that you may begin losing talented and loyal employees if you don’t deal with a toxic manager.
What are some tips for having a conversation with a toxic middle manager as the employer?
1. address the issue directly and honestly, sharing your concerns (ideally this is happening very soon after observing a problem or receiving a complaint)
2. keep it brief, and be willing to listen
3. avoid public embarrassment, discuss concerns one and one and not generally in groups
4. don’t make assumptions, ask for feedback and input, ask the manager how they suggest resolving the issue
5. If the manager indicates that they have some issues to resolve personally, contact your company’s HR dept and connect the manager with your EAP if you have one
6. explain expectations and consequences going forward
7. I have found this tip especially helpful: ask the manager to write up an outline of the conversation as they understand it by the end of the day – this will allow you to document that you both have the same understanding of the matters discussed and an additional opportunity to clarify your agreement going forward
What are your tips from an employee perspective for dealing with a toxic work environment?
It’s tough to deal with a negative personality but there are a few things you can do. If the person is generally a good person going through a rough time, acknowledge their feelings and let them know you’re sorry for what they’re dealing with. Keep it short and get back to the work tasks at hand.
If the person doesn’t take the hint and goes on and on, stop asking and acknowledging the issues and stick to work conversations. Keep interactions short. Form “alliances” with co-workers who understand, and ask them for help keeping the atmosphere and conversation topics more positive in nature.
None of us likes to feel like a tattle tale, or like we’re throwing someone under the bus, but there are times that you will need to go to your supervisor to ask for help dealing with the situation. It may start off as a confidential conversation in which you ask for some coaching on dealing with the negative behaviors – this lets your boss know there is an issues but also demonstrates that you aren’t looking for he or she to intervene while taking the initiative to deal with the issues. If all else fails, you will need to ask your supervisor to intervene.
If the issues escalate, or the manager doesn’t take appropriate actions it’s time to call HR – some large companies allow employees to call in these issues anonymously, but be prepared for being identified as the caller. Be honest, be kind, be brief and always handle yourself in a way that will make you feel proud later, at this point you’ll have to let the chips fall where they may.
What are your tips for creating a positive work environment?
It is everyone’s job to create a positive environment at work. First, make sure you aren’t one of the people who are putting others down, joking around too much, distracting others, or constantly complaining.
Leadership should be able to stand by every hire, and should consistently work at preventing toxic environments. I like to recommend that mid-size and large companies utilize personality assessments and multiple or panel interviews during the hiring process.
They should also create opportunities for ongoing education and training for both employees, middle managers and execs – for example, I provide corporate training that helps middle managers and leadership identify their own issues with self-awareness exercises, I show them how to identify issues developing among their teams and how to nip problems in the bud through my business therapy™ program.
A positive work environment and quickly resolving toxic relationships at work pays off in the long run – you will keep your best and most productive employees. Have you ever had an employee or a co-worker that you considered to be toxic? How did you handle it?
Have more questions on this subject? email me anytime