Unexpectedly Intriguing!
September 1, 2016
Toxic! - Source: http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/UsedOil/Graphics/HHWArt/

Does your workplace have that one person whose personality is so toxic that you dread going to work? You know its something about them that transforms your office into a model of dysfunction, but can you put your finger on what it is that makes them so unpleasant to be around in a professional setting?

If it helps, here is Fast Company's listing of some of the more nasty personality traits that are commonly identified among the world's most toxic coworkers for their potential to unnecessarily create conflicts while on the job.

  1. Aggressiveness. It undermines safety and requires people to divert resources from productive work into defensive operations such as fight and flight.
  2. Narcissism. An excessive of self-focus interferes with the development of a positive and flexible culture of balanced negotiation and give-and take compromises.
  3. Lack of credibility. When people don’t do what they say they will do, they lack credibility and breed mistrust.
  4. Passivity. The opposite of the initiative and ownership needed for optimal performance.
  5. Disorganization. Operational requirements for focus, structure, and discipline will not be met when people exhibit a lack of personal organization.
  6. Resistance to change. Since the world is always changing and requires continuous adaptation, rigidity and resistance to change guarantee eventual obsolescence and failure.

The Fast Company article goes on to discuss how to prevent the bad behaviors from taking root in the office, but unfortunately, doesn't address what to do when these behaviors have become established, and worse, if they are ever reinforced.

Online jobs intermediator Monster gets into the psychology of what motivates the behavior among toxic employees.

In his 25 years as a senior administrative law judge for the state of California, Jim Tamm dealt exclusively with employment disputes. Now a senior consultant with Business Consultants Network and author of Radical Collaboration: Five Essential Skills to Overcome Defensiveness and Build Successful Relationships, Tamm says the bully is fearful about his own significance, competence, likeability or helplessness.

"They don't want to feel that way, so they behave in ways to let them avoid those feelings," says Tamm. "For example, a way of avoiding your own feelings of incompetence or insignificance is to become very critical of others, flood others with information to prove you are right, or jump to conclusions and personalize everything, hold a grudge, get hostile, think obsessively or any number of other inappropriate behaviors."

So what can be done with such toxic people and their inappropriate behaviors?

If you're their manager, the Monster article cites the advice of psychologist Janet Scarborough.

"The manager needs to find a way to motivate the bully to be different," says Scarborough. "There are two possibilities for how to do this -- either offer a reward of something valued by the bullying employee or create a negative consequence for the bully if he/she continues to be abusive. The manager just has to find out what would motivate the bully to change his or her ways, and since everyone is motivated by something, there is always a way."

Managing the bad behavior of toxic employees then comes down to incentives and consequences. The carrot and the stick. To be successful in modifying the bad behavior that's negatively impacting the workplace, both require consistency and credibility on the part of the manager, because if either of these is lacking, the bad behavior will only grow worse, where the lack of consistency and credibility of these countermeasures will let "the bully's boundaries and ego expand, and they impact more people than just the initial targets."

It is therefore in everyone's best interest to ensure that the bad behavior of the toxic employee at the workplace is arrested before it reaches that state.


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