Volume 83, February 2008: Toxic People

Keyzine: An E-zine for Leaders about the People Side of Business

This is a monthly electronic magazine for anyone who wants to be a better leader, coach, facilitator, or simply, to tune up their people skills. It is a complimentary publication, devoted to the next evolution of Quality Thinking.

Publisher: © Key Associates, LLC, 2008 ISSN # 1545-8873

“Great people talk about ideas. Small people talk about other people.” — Tobias S. Gibson

“So much of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to work.” — Peter Drucker

“Those with whom we assemble, we soon resemble!” — Conventional Wisdom

“It is very difficult for people to believe the simple fact that every persecutor was once a victim.” — Alice Miller


  • What’s Hot in Leadership
  • Maintaining Yourself as a Leader
  • Frequently Asked Questions from Leaders
  • Educational Opportunities
  • Useful Websites & Newsletters
  • Articles/Publications

What’s Hot in Leadership

  • Controlling your own life and decisions about it.
  • Choosing carefully the company you keep.
  • The ability to detach or partition, when necessary.
  • Focusing on the positive and turning from the dark side of human nature.

Maintaining Yourself as a Leader

Leadership is stressful enough without exposure to draining people, energy thieves and vampires. Yet, these people are present in all of our lives – co-workers, family, friends. You recognize them because they drag you down, make you feel angry, deflated, even ill. These are “toxic people.”

First, realize that you control your actions and reactions. Choose the company you keep – a strong team of positive thinkers, who are uplifting and supportive. Good friends are a good defense. When exclusion is not an option, mentally walk away or detach. Refuse to be sucked in, lending your life force to their cause. Dig deep in your tool box for some new responses: set boundaries, provide feedback, inject humor. Read on …

Frequently Asked Questions

“How can you tell someone is toxic?”
This is easy to determine. Sometimes you feel sick and experience physical symptoms, like a headache or stomach pain. You may feel manipulated, as your buttons are being pushed (they learn who they can work). They will use tears, tantrums, threats or bribes to bully you into doing what they want. And there is a pervasive air of negativity cast in the room. Your mood is spoiled and you feel miserable. You may experience suffocation, because they consume so much of your time and energy.
Dr. Glass (1997) explains that, “They’re people whose feelings of insecurity and inadequacy make them jealous, envious and uncaring, so they end up sabotaging your projects, your relationships, your happiness – even your car journey!”
“What’s the reason for or source of toxicity?”
When a person is toxic it is because of their own issues. Sometimes these issues can consist of mental illness, which exists among approximately 20% of the population (Mental Health Association). They can be individuals who cause you stress by doing harm to themselves, such as with addictions.
Dr. Stout (2005) reports that 1 in 25 ordinary Americans is a sociopath – i.e., has no conscience and can do anything at all without feeling guilty. This 4% drains our relationships, our bank accounts, our self-esteem, our very peace on earth. Sociopathy is ultimately based on lovelessness – the inability to form relationships. Narcissism is one half on what sociopathy consists of, a failure of empathy. Those with “attachment disorders” were once victims themselves, due to their nature and their nurturing. You cannot undo their past. You cannot teach people to care.
“Is there a typology of toxicity?”
Many different authors have used a variety of titles for toxic types. Grouping them, some are:
  • Blamers, Muckrakers
  • Shamers, Judges, Critics
  • Discounters, Oppositional Personality Disorder, No Sayers
  • Professional Victims, Histrionics, Whiners, Soap Opera Stars, Needy-Weenies
  • Life Haters, Bitter to the Core, Swamp Dwellers, Drainers
  • Gossips, Back-stabbers, Mud Slingers
  • Know-it-all’s, Steam Rollers
  • Zipper Lips

And any other terms that imply negative, nasty, miserable, jealous, inconsiderate, financially irresponsible, selfish, and abusive.

“So what’s a person to do with these toxic types?”
  • Become aware. List the types of people and behaviors that are getting to you. Like vampires, first don’t let them in. You have the power to stop a toxic person. Ultimately, you can only change yourself by controlling your own actions and reactions.
  • Set boundaries and rules.
  • Provide feedback. “I sometimes get the feeling you’re not really listening to me – and it’s upsetting.”
  • Be direct and honest.
  • Mirror their behavior. But try not to lose your temper.
  • Prepare a humorous response.
  • Call for a calmer, more questioning pose. “Help me understand …”
  • Appeal to their ego. “I need your help …”
  • If forced to live with one, create a buffer zone.
  • Or let them go. Detox your life.
“Do you follow an outline?”
Oprah’s website (linked below) had a graceful formula:
  • Step One: Set the stage. “In an effort to honor our relationship, I need to tell you the truth …”
  • Step Two: Follow up with how you feel. “When you _______ it makes me feel ______ …”
  • Step Three: Then ask your family member/ friend/colleague. “Are you willing to stop doing that?”


Ask these 4 questions of people in your life:

  • Do I like them?
  • Do I trust them?
  • Do I respect them?
  • How do they make me feel?

Detoxify your workplace. Partner with healthy people.

Podcast with Marsha Petrie Sue on Toxic People: Decontaminate Difficult People at Work.

The Learning Rap addresses toxic people: Toxic People .

Dealing with toxic people: Dealing with toxic people.

Key Associates offers Conflict Management training, including “How to Deal with Difficult People” and “Threats of Violence.” We also create customized training packages for organizations: Products and Services.

Useful Websites & Newsletters

Oprah defines types of toxic people: Confront Your Toxic Relationships then talks about confronting this conflict with grace.

Join a chat and get the low-down on toxic people: Don’t Keep It All Bottled Up.

How to tell if you’re stuck in a toxic relationship: Are You Stuck in a Toxic Relationship?.

Keyzines on related topics: Dealing with Difficult People, Cynicism, Having Difficult Conversations, On the Dark Side of Leadership, and Constructive Confrontation.



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