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Jeff Marquez recently authored this article on LinkedIn.

Do you have a jerk, bully, or slacker among you? Like weeds, you have to manage or prune away their behaviors. Chances are the face of a person is coming to mind. What feelings does this person evoke–stress, negativity, anxiety, or anger? Their toxic behavior is harmful to your Team. So how do you deal with difficult or toxic people? Step one is to determine the observable actions and behavior of such an individual and the effects on your organization. Then what?

My colleague and friend Chris Kolenda teamed up with executive coach, international best-selling author, and former FBI/police hostage negotiation trainer Mark Goulston, M.D., to share ways to deal with toxic behavior. It was pure gold.

Mark described a typical approach of a toxic person. They charm, frustrate, anger, and outrage you in that order. They use innuendos, and when you respond to it, they got you. Instead, look them in the eye and listen for a question. Then and only then do you respond. He says, “expect difficult people to be difficult, expect them to push or prod.” When they do, he advises holding a little bit of yourself back. They often do not have substance because they rely on provocation.

I have had the unfortunate experience of a toxic boss, and Mark described their behavior to a tee. Now, here you are in the throes of chaos, in the moment, face to face with the toxic one. What do you? Mark says pause and say to yourself, “opportunity for poise,” and do the following three steps:

1. Do not act on the first thought that comes to mind because it is your defense.

2. Do not act on the second thought that comes to mind because it is your attack or retaliation mode.

3. Act on the third because it is getting closer to solution mode.

I reflected on my experience and how I thought that the boss was just having a bad day. That day turned into weeks, then months. Toxic behavior can cause tremendous damage ranging from losing employees, decreased productivity, losing sleep, and impacts on family and loved ones. To prevent or minimize the damage, Mark offered the following ways to deal with a toxic or difficult boss, employee, or peer.

The Boss – If you have a difficult boss, use what Mark calls assertive humility. The tone is important, so a bit of emotion might be necessary.

1. Approach him or her with, “I need your help with something that is affecting my results. When would be a good time to talk?” He or she is likely geared toward results, so they will be curious.

2. At the time, find something positive, flatter them. “Do you know how smart you are in ______ (goal setting, vision…pick something they do well)?” They will become disarmed.

3. Tell them you are bringing that up because you do not want them to distract others from the potential that the specific skill or talent can bring to the organization. In other words, their toxic or difficult behavior is distracting and preventing employees from seeing the boss’s skills and talent.

4. If necessary, follow up with, “You have a little control of what you say and how you say it, but you have no control of how it is heard. I and others have observed that you are triggering flashbacks in people. Those flashbacks are not always positive like an angry parent, and they can be tough for people to work around. Try to trigger flashbacks that are positive and remind others of a positive parent, coach, or mentor.” 

5. Finish it with, “You have no idea what kind of productivity you can get from people who, when you trigger them, either want to kill themselves or kill you. And you turn them into people who want to kill for you. It will blow your mind!”

Employee – If you have a difficult employee, again, use assertive humility with the appropriate tone. 

1. Approach him or her with, “I need your help with something.”

2. Then say, “I’m really getting close to rooting against you, and it pains me. In fact, I do not want to work with anyone in this company I do not root for. The reason I’m getting close to rooting against you is because…” and tell them of the observed toxic or difficult behaviors.

3. Let them know that you do not believe that is the person they really are, that they are better than that. “Let’s consider this a wake-up call conversation that could lead to another one because if I get to a point where I am rooting against you, we will have to make changes.”

Peer – If you have a difficult peer or colleague, use assertive humility with tone.

1. Tell them, “I am getting really close to avoiding you. And I do not want to avoid you. It is bad for our Team and for our cooperation.”

2. Say, “The reason I am close to wanting to avoid you, why I am having this conversation is…” and tell them of the observed toxic or difficult behaviors.

3. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Let them know that you do not believe that is who they are or that something must be triggering them. “Instead of taking on the behavior of avoiding you, and I am not the only one, I am bringing it to your attention.”

Finally, Mark has a formula worthy of remembering: aggression + principle=conviction and aggression – principle=hostility. “Conviction makes you strong; hostility makes you wild.” If you have toxic or difficult people among you, manage or prune away the behavior. Let these tactics help you confront them, and get you back to focusing on your powerful Team and sustainable success. 

Like many Americans, I’m fascinated by Great Britain’s royal family. I lived in London for three years and loved visiting Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. I binge-watch The Crown. Queen Elizabeth II exemplifies The Operator, one of our four PROM Servant Leader Archetypes (TM). 

I’m dismayed by the ongoing tension with Harry and Meghan, which was on display in the Oprah interview. Bigotry and bullying are unacceptable, and I’m troubled by the stories the interview revealed. 

There’s only one celebrity in the royal family, so I’m also surprised that the young couple did not seem to get the memo. Some of their anxiety appears to come from a feeling of being underappreciated.

This last problem was entirely preventable.

The royal family seemed not to learn a vital lesson from the Princess Diana tragedy: when you treat people poorly, they are likely to return the favor. People who feel unvalued will vote with their feet out of your company or, in this case, out of the country. They won’t be ambassadors for your brand.

There were probably many good ways to give Harry and Meghan causes they could run with that boosted the royal family’s prestige and impact. Harry has been active with wounded veterans, and Meghan’s star power could have advanced that mission and other good ones without overshadowing the Queen.

This story provides some lessons on what to do with the talent on your team:

1. Put them in positions to use their PROM superpowers so that they succeed, and so does your business.

2. Use our weekly check-in questions to keep them focused on priorities, using their strengths, and getting the guidance and support they need. [Reply to me, and I’ll send you the checklist.]

3. Hold them accountable for doing the right things the right way. Every expectation should include what you want them to do, the outcomes you want to achieve, and the date you want the job done.  

4. Follow-up and be consistent about enforcing your standards. 

5. If you find that your team has toxic talent — highly capable people who undermine your company and their co-workers, then fire them. Toxic talent always costs more than the results they provide.

What action steps are you taking to let your subordinates know that you value their work and want to give them opportunities to contribute their best to your team’s success?

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Last week I wrote that the UN-heroes of the pandemic award goes to big city public school teacher union officials. 

Amy Mizialko, head of the union in Milwaukee, said in a March 14th television interview, “We will not legitimize this notion of learning loss. Our students in Milwaukee Public Schools and students across the nation have learned skills this year that probably families and educators never anticipated that they would learn in terms of self-direction, organization, working with peers in a new way, so we’re not going to agree that a standardized test is somehow a measure of learning or somehow a measure of learning loss.”

I rest my case.