It’s nearly impossible to connect with toxic individuals or use MultiDentity principles within toxic organizational cultures. Toxic people create insurmountable barriers to building an environment that encourages people to risk letting others truly get to know them. I’m no longer surprised when I encounter individuals who let their personal issues or oversized egos permeate their work style, which negatively affects their coworkers.
Although we’d like to think otherwise, many organizations with dysfunctional cultures are still successful when measuring their return on investment. Organizations often prefer to ignore the angry boss, the petty or malicious supervisor, the abusive teammate, or the vindictive department director especially if when they contribute to the mission or meet the financial bottom line. People who work for toxic managers and with toxic coworkers tend to feel as if they’re consistently under attack, lacking in professional or emotional support, powerless, and unable to identify the cause of their pain and discomfort. None of this is a formula to build high-performing teams or social environments. Still, these peoples’ toxic attitudes and behaviors have a devastating impact on their colleagues, causing psychological distress and morale problems. Toxic attitudes and behaviors often lead to financial losses due to lost productivity, employee turnover, grievances, and lawsuits. Remember that relationships, information, and ideas need to move freely among all kinds of people in today’s global environment.
Here lies the MultiDentity challenge.
With so many different kinds of people in the mix many people will interpret toxic behaviors as intolerance or bias related to some aspect of their identity. I’ve found this was especially true when toxic personalities interact with people who are a minority within the team, or who hold less power in the work relationship.
Toxic colleagues can trigger reactions across a broad range of identity differences. People of color can attribute the negative behavior to race; women can attribute it to gender; younger employees believe it has to do with age; people who speak with an accent think it relates to language or nationality, and so on.
Get Some Emotional Distance
If you’re relating a toxic person, remember that you’re not powerless. Rise above it by gaining emotional distance, and observe the interactions instead of feeding into them so that you aren’t hooked. Create boundaries, such as when and where you meet, what the agenda will be, or when to end a discussion or meeting because you sense it’s about to become counterproductive. Don’t be too quick to judge that what you’re experiencing relates to some aspect of your identity—remember, it’s not about you, but rather the other person’s inability to manage his or her behavior in a professional manner. It’s also about the organization tolerating that behavior, which at some point should lead you to ask why you’re there in the first place. You have to be good at taking care of yourself in a MultiDentity world. You can’t wait for institutions to rescue you. Stress is a serious threat to your mental and physical health, and you need to be healthy and well to succeed. Chronic stress diminishes your ability to perform and thrive.
Use your support network of family and friends to help you get a different perspective on what you’re experiencing before you make important decisions involving a toxic colleague. Don’t react before you make a strategy, and be thoughtful about which battles you take on.
If you’re in a leadership role and one or more employees brings you examples of a toxic manager in your organization, use your position power to investigate, coach, or discipline the manager. Courageous action speaks louder than words, and you’re responsible as a leader for safeguarding your company’s significant investments in human assets. A bad manager or toxic employee harms your other employees’ performances and damages your organization’s brand and public identity.