Torpedo Toxic Workplace Behavior

by Marissa Levin, an EO Chesapeake Bay member and CEO of Information Experts

Can we be honest with each other? As much as we love running a business, we don’t always love the people we work with. All too often we encounter an employee, client or contractor that can suck the life out of us while we’re trying to grow our company. I’ve coached dozens of CEOs over the years, and this issue continues to present itself. So what can you do to protect your mindset and productivity when negative energy oozes into your workday? Here are five strategies:

Embrace the Concept of Containment
The concept of containment came to me during a session with a client. While she’s one of the best in her field, the biggest threat to her success is her vulnerability to negative people. The first change of any behavior is the awareness that you need to make a change, followed by the acknowledgement that you are empowered to make that change. When my client realized that she can be the master of her circumstance rather than the victim, her entire mindset shifted. I will take this one step further. To be an expert in your field, you are obligated to mitigate threats that can drag you down or hold you back. Containing toxic people, energy or behaviors not only benefits you, it enables you to bring your best self to those whom you serve.

Whenever Possible, Schedule Difficult People
If you know you have to engage someone who is difficult, take control of the situation. Schedule them according to what works for you. If you need to get them out of the way in the morning so you can be positive the rest of the day, schedule your interactions first thing. If your energy increases as the day goes on and you don’t want these people dragging you down, hold off engaging them until the end of the day. The important thing is to be cognizant of your energy levels and schedule accordingly. In doing so, you will be better able to handle the ramifications of toxic people and their energy-zapping behavior.

Build in Buffers for Re-Charging
One of my clients has to engage with industry leaders that are downright mean. She invests a lot of energy into building long-term relationships, so when she comes across someone that uses bullying tactics to get what they want, it derails her. We’re helping her build a stronger mindset and thicker skin. She is realizing that how people treat her is merely a reflection of who they are. It’s essential to minimize the mental impact toxic people can have so that you can stay positive and continue moving forward. My client has now incorporated “buffers” into her schedule that consist of 15-minute breaks for breathing exercises, walks outside or mental reminders that she can’t please everyone. These breaks clear the “energy palette,” reset her mindset and help her bring her “A” game.

Create a Paper Trail
Paper trails eliminate misunderstandings over what was said and what should be expected. They also help to institute accountability. To minimize the fallout of misunderstandings, I’ve taught my clients to send an email after every important conversation, one that summarizes what was discussed, requests either agreement or confirmation about what was discussed, and clearly states and assigns follow-up actions and expectations as a result of the conversation. What is the outcome of the discussion, and what comes next? Paper trails help answer these important questions. They minimize the chance of misunderstandings and remove the opportunity to revise history.

Say “No.” It’s a Complete Sentence.
As entrepreneurs, it can be tough saying “no,” especially when we want to build bridges for future opportunities. But when people try to drag you into their situations—or force their way into your own—setting boundaries is crucial. When you’re feeling pressured to say “yes,” don’t. Instead, tactfully say no in a way that minimizes confrontation and conflict, but enables you to stand your ground. Own your decisions, energy and outcome. If your intuition is telling you to walk away, run. Life is too short to be hanging out with miserable people.

Marissa Levin (pictured) is an EO Chesapeake Bay member who writes a leadership blog for small business owners ( Contact Marissa at [email protected].

Categories: Best Practices FINANCES members WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS


One Response to “ Torpedo Toxic Workplace Behavior ”

  1. Alice Heiman on

    Great advice for handling toxic people. It’s amazing how fast they can spread their negativity and do damaging things. It’s best to handle them head on. If you can’t help them change their behavior they may need to go. Toxic employees can have a huge impact on your star performers. They don’t want to be around toxic people and can’t understand why and employer would let them stay. I’ve seen good people leave organizations because of the behavior of others.


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