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  • Nick Metler

The 8 Characteristics of Toxic Behavior

Updated: Aug 26, 2022


THE COST OF DRAMA & TOXICITY

We've all dealt with toxic behaviors. Drama seeps into our everyday spaces, whether at work, home, or anywhere else in the community. However, rarely do we have time to calculate the cost of drama and toxic behaviors when all we do is put out the fires left in its wake. With limited time to handle problems effectively, it's crucial to root toxic behaviors out at the beginning, practice positive accountability, and reward impactful attitudes in your organizations.


To make the necessary changes and develop a healthy culture, it's critical to outline some examples of toxic behavior to recognize when it happens and hold ourselves accountable when we may slip into unhealthy situations.


EXTREME & OVER-THE-TOP CONFIDENCE

The first characteristic of toxic behavior comes from superiority and narcissism. Toxic teammates often convey that they are the smartest person in the room and present a heightened understanding of dealing with the problems at hand. They believe they have a superior understanding of what is wrong with the company and are not afraid to share it. When extreme confidence is evident, narcissism is likely coming right around the corner.


CONSTANTLY CRITICAL OF OTHER LEADERS

Second, toxic teammates are usually critical of other leaders, nitpicking their every move. They picture themselves as judge, jury, and executioner. This behavior feeds into the first characteristic, as many do with one another. When lacking self-awareness but seeing oneself as the smartest person in the room, one must come up with answers that denigrate teammates and lift oneself. Therefore they lack knowledge of their own limitations while always pointing out the limits of their contemporaries.


NO HEALTHY TRANSPARENCY ABOUT CONCERNS

While offering their unvarnished feedback, they restrict their honesty and transparency. This usually comes out as passive-aggressive behavior. They keep problems "under the table" and guide the emotional tenor of meetings from beneath the surface. Have you ever felt frustrated because a decision took longer than it should have? Maybe you remember a meeting when you talked around a problem rather than addressing it directly and moving toward a solution. What does it feel like when there's a problem everyone is thinking about, and nobody is addressing it? These are examples of a lack of transparency and the ineffective problem solving it leads to.


BUILD SEPARATE COALITIONS

Toxic teammates tend to behave as emotional predators. They prey on the fragile people within an organization. They find their power by dividing and conquering. This activity leads to the creation of private teams or coalitions. These coalitions become a breeding ground for drama with the lack of transparency. The "under the table issues" begin to fester and infect the organizational mindset without any semblance of positive accountability.


ACCOUNTABILITY BECOMES AN ATTACK & NOT AN ACT OF KINDNESS

Regarding positive accountability, toxic leaders will view any attempt at constructive feedback as an attack rather than a respectful attempt to hold them to their commitments. Accountability, at its best, happens with a kind, direct, and respectful attitude. However, even these benchmarks will not be enough to handle another person's response. Leaders must become comfortable with being uncomfortable. When handling conflict or holding someone accountable, leaders must control what they can control, do their best to deescalate tense situations, and become comfortable when the outcomes are out of their hands.


MEETINGS AFTER THE MEETING

One of the culminating characteristics of toxic behavior is meetings after the meeting. When problems stay "under the table" and coalitions begin to take hold of teams, people still feel the need to talk about the issues. However, these talks never find a constructive place where everyone can seek solutions. Meetings after the meeting happen when the problems are not formally addressed, so the drama takes over the water cooler talk and grinds productivity to a halt.


IN THEIR MINDS, THEY ARE NEVER WRONG & THEIR TARGETS ARE RARELY RIGHT

Defensiveness marks this mindset. Defensiveness is the opposite of openness. To experience transformational leadership, leaders must be open to feedback and information. Dr. Travis Bradberry writes, "While the turnover from toxic relationships is costly, the real cost is the lost productivity and emotional distress experienced by people who are stuck in these relationships." Defensiveness always leads to pointing the finger in times of problem-solving, but this toxic behavior rarely leads to a solution that will hit the mark.


THEY HINDER THE SELF-BELIEF OF OTHERS

If you watched Charlie Brown, you probably remember the character Pig-Pen. His cloud of dust and dirt followed him everywhere he went. Much like the dirt swirling around Pig-Pen, a cloud of condescension follows toxic teammates. They cause others to have a lowered sense of self-belief. They don't help others raise their commitments or loyalty to one another or the organizational vision.


TRUST ACCELERATORS

When dealing with these behaviors, it is vital to remember that a healthy culture is always stronger than the toxicity of an unhealthy leader. Healthy cultures offer an antidote to these behaviors and often push toxic teammates out of a team. Building a positive culture will weed out toxic leaders because they will see the positive foundation as harmful and leave when they cannot gain a foothold. Trust Accelerators create an environment where toxicity cannot get a grip on your team. They are the operational principles with which people hold one another accountable and shape the decision-making and problem-solving practices toward impactful solutions.

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