How to manage toxic people in your workplace


Published: 30 Oct 2017



Reality Check

No business owner sets out to create a toxic workplace.

Why would they? It leads to a much higher turnover of staff, prevents attraction of good staff to advertised positions, reduces earning potential significantly, and diminishes your brand. Then add to that elevated stress levels for the people dealing with the ‘toxic’ and you have a ripple effect causing pain and hurt every single day.

Every toxic situation has a ‘circle of influence’ and the sooner every single person in the workplace understands that they are part of that – the better.

Exceptional communication is born out of what you use, choose or enable. So let’s be clear about this, even if you are not the toxic person in the room, if you enable it, you are fueling the fire.

So often, once I get to the nitty gritty of a workplace I find that in a considerable workforce of many people it can just be one or two people that affects, changes, and runs the culture of a whole business.

How can that be? That just one or two people have so much influence?

Because others allow it!

And, why do they allow it? Because they don’t know what else to do. They don’t think it’s their job. Their problem. But, it soon becomes their problem.

One of the saddest parts of my ‘job’ is in seeing how quickly relationships erode – whether that be couples, businesses, parents and children. It happens in the blink of an eye, and then with a dash of disengagement, a smidgen of resentment, and a copious dollop of self-protection or ego, it’s all over rover.

So what can you do?


The simplest thing is to use my now almost worn out saying “If you see it, say it!”

Translation: If something doesn’t sit well with you when you FIRST hear it or see it, if someone jars your soul…….tell them. There and then. That first time. Because here’s the thing with communication. what you accept, what you invite in, what you show others you do – is how they think (and assume) you want to/are willing to be communicated with.

Once you’ve let it in, you will always be on the back pedal after that trying to undo it. Far better to get it out into the open. Make it transparent. Deal with it as it happens. In real time. With the person that is doing it – not passive-aggressively behind their back afterwards. If you do that then YOU become part of the problem.

So the next time this happens to you, and you are confronted by a ‘toxic’ here’s what you do.

You flip them into stage 1 of the Elemental Potential model for compassionate assertiveness.

This means you say something – a question or statement that forces them to self-analyse their behaviour or words. And remember this will be in a low and slow tone of voice, with soft inquisitive/inquiring body language initially.

My words of choice for’ toxic’s’ are:

“Why do you think that?”

“What’s your reasoning behind that?”

“Do you have any evidence of that to show me. I’m intrigued?”

“Is that reasonable?”

“Why do you say that?”

“Explain that to me.”

You need to say something that stops them in their tracks, makes them think, and makes them accountable for their ‘blurt’. People don’t get to be toxic and just walk away from you. They have to explain their actions and words. THAT IS HOW IT STOPS!

Understand that most toxic’s are running on ego. They are attention seekers. Often don’t get much attention elsewhere. It’s a cliche, but they have often been bullied elsewhere, or undermined. They like the sound of their own voice, and it makes them feel important to be the toxic.¬†Also understand that many toxic’s actually do know that they are the toxic. They are just not used to being challenged about it.

So, can the toxic workplace be reversed? Absolutely. Because here are the choices. They are not complicated choices.

The people dealing with the toxic need to deal with it – every day, every single time, zero tolerance. The toxic gets ‘worn down’ by this now that you are ‘onto them’, and will do either of two things:

Conform and stop the behaviour.


I love the saying – “Many hands make light work”.

A united workforce, all being compassionately assertive is a powerful thing. Businesses quickly recover, restore, re-energise in my experience once this issue of the toxic is addressed. So play your part in the workforce. Don’t be the toxic. Don’t encourage the toxic. Have zero tolerance for the toxic – in the most compassionately assertive way you can.

Leave a Reply