After clearing up the dinner table just now, I turned around and you were gone! That was fast. Was your mom about to launch into another round of “Dating 101” with you both?
You know she means well. We both want you boys to be on the active lookout for a life partner now that you’re in your 20s. Dating is a great way (the only way actually) to understand the subtleties of relationships with the opposite sex, and what it takes to build a lasting union.
Plus, your mom and I want grandkids someday, preferably before we’re institutionalised, okay?!
Today’s sharing on the Toxic 12 seems almost too straightforward that I actually hesitated to write it, even though I said I would.
I mean, who can’t tell when someone’s speaking ill of another, pouring toxic vitriol enough to burn through adamantium and vibranium right? (Yep, I’m still an X-men and Avengers fanboy!)
But sometimes what may seem obvious might lull you into complacency. And I don’t want that for you at all.
So let’s do this, shall we?
What makes a Hater/Gossiper/Flaw-pointer
As these names suggest, such toxic folks almost live and breathe condescension and resentment. They sow seeds of dissension, discord and division every chance they get; always on the lookout for “loopholes and leaks” in others.
The more obvious ones will tell outright lies and spread false information. You may recall over a decade ago, a certain country’s president became notorious worldwide for doing just that, and showing us that even the most hallowed office on the planet can be occupied by people of such toxicity!
The less obvious ones will appear to share something they found out to be true out of concern. But the outcome is still the same: the ‘victim’ gets painted in an unfavourable light, and worse, the ‘whistle-blower’ comes off a ‘saint’.
Less obvious these may be, but no less insidious and destructive.
Many times this second group of folks are sharing personal observations and confidential information they ought not to. But just like the eternal lure and temptation of the forbidden fruit, few can resist the urge to listen in as “juices spill”! Who can resist joining a conversation that begins with one of the following:
“Did you know/hear about…”
“I just found out that…”
“You’re not going to believe this but…”
“Guess who/what I just saw earlier…”
“I don’t know how best to say this, but…”?
Now here’s the thing boys.
These haters and gossip mongers never come across that way initially. They will take a lot of pain to appear friendly, kind and engaged. If you’re new, they will go out of their way to take you around, and show you the ropes of how to navigate life in the workplace.
In time, they will share about this or that person and highlight flaws, all in the name of ‘keeping it real’.
That’s your cue to run!
Cos these folks will eventually eviscerate and commit character assassination once they sense in you a willing audience. And if you’re not careful, they will have you step on orange peels.
I should know.
My Fatal Stumble
It happened to me back in my early 30s, at the end of a long work day.
The details are sketchy now, but I remembered how I got dragged one evening into a conversation by a toxic colleague.
I’ll call her M.
M was a ‘formidable player’ in our team. Formidable not only because she played the office political game like an old hand (even though she was barely 30). M was also smart. She had a knack for rallying people around her causes and viewpoints, including our dragon lady boss, whose tempera-mentality and intolerance for incompetence were legendary.
At that time, M was also my team leader, and that meant if she came to my work station to engage in a little tete-a-tete, I had to oblige.
Which was what happened that fatal evening in 2002.
It was nearly 8 pm, and I was really hoping to pack up and go home. As I was finishing up on an email, M approached and started to talk about how another colleague (let’s call her B) was giving her the run around and being uncooperative.
Now B was notorious in our department. She had been with the organisation practically from Day 1, and though she was only a support staff, she made it clear to most of us young executives that she only served the big bosses and people she liked. This was despite the fact that her role was to support anyone in the team who needed help. Even her job title had the word “Support” in it!
So M’s outpouring wasn’t really a surprise. We all had our fair share of B stories to tell.
Since it was past 8 pm then, M and I assumed that support staff like B would have already left the office. So, letting our guards down and chatting freely, our mutual dislike for B came out openly.
Cos the next thing we knew, B suddenly popped her head around my cubicle wall and let fly her anger at being talked about behind her back. Needless to say M and I were both horrified, or at least I was. As I was seated, and my cubicle wall blocked my view from ‘oncoming traffic’, the only person who could have seen B coming was M.
To this day, I still don’t know if M did or didn’t see B coming.
Needless to say, B reported the matter first thing the next morning and I earned a ticket to my boss’ office, along with M and her supervisor too.
What I learnt
Though I can’t say in all honesty that I was subsequently able to avoid such situations in the course of my work, none was as ‘memorable’ as what took place that fateful evening.
So here are some hard-earned tips to help you avoid these toxic folks:
- Avoid Avoid Avoid!
Stay as far away from these toxic people as you can. Sometimes it might not be possible as that person could be your superior or a popular influencer, eg him/her who always brings an entourage out for lunch. In such instances, always steer conversations to work matters, and keep all small talk, well, small.
- Adhere to the Adage “See No Evil. Hear No Evil. Speak No Evil.”
Refuse as much as possible to be drawn into toxic conversations. Don’t respond or, better yet, change the topic by picking one attribute of the victim that you have in common with (eg you both went to the same school), and expand on that in a neutral, even positive, conversational direction.
- Arm yourself with facts
Stick to facts and avoid assumptions and conjectures. It’s also wiser to deal with the issue and not the person, something gossipers and flaw-pointers prefer to do but which ends up creating a toxic work environment.
- Ascertain Motives
Ascertain the motive of any discussion these hate mongers initiate – does it help the ‘victim’ or elevate the status of this toxic ‘town-crier’? If the former, formulate solutions and seek resolutions. If the latter, firmly confront the hater and let it be known that you will confirm with the victim if what’s said of him/her is true. If that fails to silence the perpetrator, state clearly you won’t participate in the conversation and leave (though you best be prepared for potential vicious comebacks and ‘revenge’).
- Acknowledge that no one’s perfect
This means not taking things said to heart since no one’s perfect, though that’s often harder to do especially if you’re the victim. In such instances, simply acknowledge that there are usually deeper motives that drive such toxic people, like a lack of self awareness, a desperate need to be loved and accepted, or a troubled and toxic upbringing.
If you have the time and energy, you could try to probe further and maybe uncover the truth. For example, the perpetrator could have been a victim of past office politics too.
But in most cases, it simply isn’t worth the effort, nor is it wise to, as it might fall outside the scope of work and spillover into someone’s private life.
And you might end up in quick sand!
Okay that’s a wrap guys.
Next time we’ll talk about the eighth type of Toxic People: The Needy Victims.
Now about Dating 101….