Toxic behaviours are unfortunately all too common in the workplace and our personal relationships, they are lethal to productivity, engagement and effectiveness. This post is going to outline 4 common toxic communication styles, so that you can easily spot when they are happening as well as give you the antidotes to combat them.
The first thing to note is that toxic behaviours are normal. All teams will face some form of toxicity at some point. The second note is that toxic behaviours happen when people are feeling powerless or frustrated about a situation they are in. Spending time understanding why people feel the way they do is not a waste of time, in fact by understanding the root cause you will decrease future toxic behaviours.
Below are a list of toxic behaviours and the antidotes to overcome them to create healthy communication:
Toxic Behaviour #1 Blame/ Criticism First off this is not a complaint. A complain addresses a specific action, whilst criticism or blame becomes personal. It is attacking the person rather than the behaviour. On top of this we often make up something about the persons behaviour beyond what is actually happening. For example Jack is always late, he clearly doesn’t take this job seriously and has no respect for other. The reality maybe that Jack has lousy time management.
COIN (Context, Observation, Impact, Next). Behind every complaint is a request, so address the behaviour you don’t like seeing and ask for what you want instead. Use ‘I’ instead of ‘You’ so the other person doesn’t feel attacked. What is the Context of the problem behavior? Where did you Observe it? What was the Impact of the behavior (on you)? What changes are requested Next? For example. â€œIn the meeting you made some negative comments about our client (Context and Observation). I felt like you were misleading the junior staff without the full picture (Impact.) In the future please discuss your concerns with me one to one (Next)â€Â
Soft start up. This is the opposite of a harsh start up- the type of communication that is highly emotional very quickly, that lacks consideration of where best to have difficult conversations. For example, Sue reads an email from Paul that she doesn’t find pleasing, she walks into the middle of the office and starts berating him in front of the staff. In contrast a soft start up would request to speak to Paul at a convenient time, will ask him about the email and sets a respectful tone to have rich and challenging conversations.
Toxic Behaviour #2 Defensiveness Criticism often leads to defensive behaviour. When being defensive there is often no attempt to move to problem solving. It is more a stand off. Defense is really another way of blaming by saying ‘it’s not me, it’s you. The other person then doesn’t feel heard, and the person defending gets into justifying/ blaming behaviour. Defense is refusing to own your behaviour or victimizing yourself, as you may not yet know how to deal with your shortcomings.
Curiosity: Take an inquisitive interest in othersâ€™ concerns and ask questions. Have a desire and courage to investigate and learn about yourself and what is going on rather than problem solve or correct.
2% Truth: Sometimes we react because we canâ€™t really identify at all with the criticism, try to see where the other person is coming from and understand their view point- even if it is only 2%!
Toxic Behaviour #3 Stonewalling Are you the person that just shuts down or doesn’t engage? That is stonewalling and it includes cutting off communication, silent treatment, refusal to engage, withdrawal and in milder forms just been reluctant to express your thoughts. The desire of the person stonewalling is to feel safe, but it is toxic because there is no way for the relationship to move towards problem solving as connection is cut.
Transparency: You have a voice- speak up, take responsibility and be honest about how you are feeling. Check for emotional overwhelm and if this is present take a time out.
Get mediation: Create safety by getting a third party in to mediate and encourage the person to so speak up past their fears.
Toxic Behaviour #4 Contempt Contempt includes sarcasm, belittling, name calling, and hostile humour and is often a direct put down of another person. This happens when we are feeling powerless or inferior and makes us falsely feel more in control or superior. This toxic behaviour causes high stress to the receiver and the giver. It is the most toxic of all the styles.
Personal development: Contempt is highly damaging to both giver and receiver, so seek to develop yourself and how you communicate.
Practice respectful communication: Be willing to resolve conflict without name calling
COIN (Context, Observation, Impact, Next). See Blame antidote for further explanation.
Now you are aware of the toxins you can create agreements within your team of how to deal with them when they are present.
EDUCATE your team on the 4 toxic behaviours.
NAME the toxins when they are present and create permission within the team call them out.
AGREE as a team how to deal with the toxic behaviours using the antidotes above.
COMMUNICATE and understand the frustration and feeling behind the attack. This way you will get to the root cause of the behaviour and the relationships within the team will be strengthened through this clean communication. Do not gossip, keep communication clean and honest.