[NOTE: This post originally appeared on LinkedIn]
Few things seem to have the ability to drain our energy more than dealing with toxic people. In the workplace, we may have to frequently interact with a co-worker, manager, or direct report who seems to constantly be releasing negative or “toxic” energy. I’ve created five simple steps to help us take responsibility, create accountability, and reclaim our power in any unpleasant situation with a “toxic” colleague.
The first step is to stop associating the colleague with toxicity. How we talk, speak, and think about an individual or a situation dictates how we relate and react to it. If I believe someone is “toxic”, even a simple invitation from them to lunch starts to appear suspicious and malicious. Shift the associations and you’ll start to shift your experience of how you view this person.
Second, ask yourself, “What have I decided is true about this person?” Often, we may write someone off the first time they do something we do not agree with. The disagreement could have happened months ago, but since then we have been gathering evidence that they are a jerk. Acknowledge to yourself when and what YOU decided was true about them. They were not born toxic, it was a label that was given to them.
The third step is to try listening to the person from a different angle. In the book, The Art of Facilitation, Dale Hunter suggests listening for the motivation or “hidden commitment” behind an unpleasant interaction. As an example, after an important meeting your boss says, “I can’t believe you said that it front of our client, that was so stupid!”
Possible hidden commitments that may have caused your boss to use “toxic” rhetoric include:
- They may be committed to the outcome of the project.
- They may be committed to your growth.
- They may be committed to doing what they feel is perfect work.
- They may be committed to the client.
- They may be committed to a promotion to help support their family.
- They may be committed to not making a mistake.
The fourth step is to simply remember that this person, consciously or unconsciously, is doing what they think is best. Assuming positive intent can make all the difference in diffusing a toxic situation.
Finally, the last step to overcoming toxicity is to write your colleague’s name on a piece of paper and take 5 minutes to write a list of things you appreciate, admire, and have learned about/from them.
When we shift our relationships to “toxic” co-workers, we gain the power to understand the deeper meaning beyond difficult communication, stay present, and shift the atmosphere of the situation to calmer waters. When we are in alignment, we are able to set the boundaries of what kind of communication is acceptable in the future.
I find that even in the most difficult situations, once we show a colleague that we can see through their fire to what fuels them (their commitments), we are able to gain their respect and gain their partnership.
Now go reclaim your power.
Christopher Littlefield is the founder of AcknowledgmentWorks. He trains leaders around the world in the Art of Acknowledgment and Engagement. His work revolves around the understanding that at the heart of all of our relationships is the experience of feeling valued. Watch Chris as he shares his research at TEDx Beirut.