There’s no getting away from it. At some stage, in both your personal and professional life, you will inevitably run into one or more truly toxic people. And, though they are often portrayed in cartoonish ways in the mass media, the negative effect they can have on your life is very real indeed.
Unfortunately, toxic people come in all shapes and sizes so it’s not often immediately apparent you’re dealing with one until it’s potentially too late. Some will be apparently oblivious to the effect they have on those around them, others will seem to positively relish the chaos they bring in their wake. All of them are problematic.
In order to prosper long term you’ll need some sort of strategy for dealing with toxic people in the real world. Fail to factor their presence in and there is an excellent chance of that negativity creeping into your world and sabotaging your long-term success.
To help you keep on top of your game, we’ve gathered together 10 tips for tackling toxic people.
1. Don’t Tolerate Moaning Minnies
The negatively inclined – particularly those who are prone to constant complaining – feed off tacit endorsement of their behaviour. The key to handling these types of people is to establish early on what will and won’t fly.
As soon as that stream of negative commentary starts cranking up, address it simply and directly and make it clear that is not the way you operate. Concentrate on the positive and stress that what you are interested in hearing is solutions rather than problems.
2. Choose The Hill You Want To Die On
A classic sign of toxic behaviour is outsized reactions to seemingly minor events. Successful people know that what ultimately counts is how many battles you get to fight, not needing to win every single one.
Pick your battles and avoid letting toxic people drag you into their personal apocalyptic scenarios while you sail serenely by.
3. Stay Above The Fray
Maintaining a certain level of distance is crucial to being able to manage any type of situation. Generals, for example, are not usually dictating events from the front line. They need distance and perspective in order to see what is really going on across all fronts.
When dealing with toxic people there is pressure to sink to their level and get sucked into a world of unnecessary, distracting minutiae. In the words of Work The System’s Sam Harris, look to stay outside and slightly elevated at all times in order to manage situations effectively.
4. Acknowledge Your Emotions
One of the many confusing things about dealing with toxic people is that, in a funny sort of way, they are much more comfortable with some aspects of their emotional landscape than you are.
They will be used to processing strong negative emotions in many situations where you may well not be.
The key thing to remember here is that there is a world of difference between recognising an emotion and reacting to it.
The former is a positive path to take, the latter is a recipe for disaster. Acknowledge the feelings that arise in any given situation but give yourself time to process them rather than blindly reacting and you insulate yourself against many forms of toxic behaviour.
5. Seal The Borders
Setting down markers for what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour is a great start to managing toxic people but it’s by no means guaranteed to solve every problem on its own.
If a toxic person refuses to change their behaviour – a fairly typical scenario – it’s often best to simply shut that person out of your life and make sure they have as little interaction with you as possible.
6. Define Your Own Happiness
Happiness, joy, peace of mind, call it what you will – feeling good about the world at large is substantially easier if you are relying on your own definition of what success is rather than someone else’s.
By basing your feelings of self-worth or happiness on the opinions of others you hold yourself hostage to their whims.
If you are dealing with a positive mentor who has your best interests at heart, this can work out very well. If you’re in the presence of a toxic individual on the other hand, you leave yourself horribly exposed to manipulation.
Take responsibility for your own success.
7. Problems Are Easy, Solutions Are Hard
To put it bluntly, any idiot can spot problems in most situations. What’s hard is effectively identifying and implementing solutions.
Toxic people flourish in problematic environments because the generally negative atmosphere is a perfect fit for their natural inclinations. Solution orientated environments, on the other hand, naturally encourage a positive outlook.
By insisting on solutions rather than problems, you force everyone to raise their game and row towards the same shore.
8. Forgive But Don’t Forget
Everyone makes mistakes and holding grudges is a pointless waste of mental energy but there is one uncomfortable truth that must be fully taken on board if you are after long-term success – people rarely change.
This is not to suggest that people cannot change, rather that it takes a significant amount of effort that most people are simply not prepared to put in.
Past performance is an excellent guide to future behaviour. When you’re dealing with toxic people, by all means be prepared to forgive on a one-off basis but file away what happened for future reference and don’t get fooled twice.
9. Be Kind To Yourself
As the old saying goes, if you talked to your friends the way you talked to yourself, you’d have no friends. Never a truer word was spoken.
There are two issues at play here. Firstly, constant negative self-talk cripples your chances of successfully executing on anything because you’re incessantly doubting your own abilities and second-guessing every decision.
The second nasty side effect is that it opens a natural door in your mind for toxic people to walk right on through. Your own carefully cultivated personal negativity will welcome external toxic behaviour with open arms. Don’t fall into this trap.
10. Cut Down The Coffee
Sweet and black, iced or frothy with a shot of caramel, whatever way you take it coffee is a wonderful thing.
Like any drug though – and it is very much a drug – the poison is in the dose.
When you’re overindulging in coffee, you’re essentially short-circuiting your central nervous system and operating in a state of artificial arousal. Do this over the long term and you encourage a negative cycle of artificial highs and lows that makes you easy prey for toxic people.
We hope the tips above help you maintain your calm in the face of toxic influences you run into over the course of your career. The road ahead will not always be smooth but by consciously fine-tuning your behaviour over time you’ll set yourself up for future success and a substantially less complicated life.