At one point in my personal development I found myself reading a lot about how to fix/work with/not poke in the eye toxic people. We all have those co-workers we just can’t stand and have a variety of ways to disrupt the team or culture. They’re too detail oriented. They make decisions too quickly. They don’t communicate enough. They over-communicate. They cry too much. They don’t talk about their feelings. They gossip. They’re a butt kisser. They twist your words around. They play politics. They take credit for your work.
I felt like I was trying really hard to work with them in new ways, but nothing was changing. They weren’t any easier to work with.
Then two things happened. First I found out that colleagues were talking behind my back about what an abrasive communicator I was because I wrote short, direct emails. Secondly, I realized that they (colleagues I labeled as “toxic”) weren’t the problem. I was.
It felt icky to be talked about in that way, but I knew it was just a communication style difference for the team. I communicated in a way that made sense to me. It is one of my top values to communicate with authenticity so no one is ever left guessing whether or not I said what I really meant. By communicating directly and succinctly, my intent was to make sure there was clarity (not curtness).
Instead they questioned my intent and integrity. They labeled me as a version of toxic because of my email style. (Their gossip was also a form of poison, but I’ll leave them to own up to that on their own.) Geesh.
But hadn’t I judged prematurely a thousand times before? Heck yes.
So I started adding to my emails, “Hi, so-and-so, How are you?” and then the same message I would have sent anyway. But it was a nice gut check on my intention. They’re perception of my toxicity was theirs, not mine to own, AND I could adapt to better meet their needs.
We all deserve to give and receive a lot more grace.
So now instead of focusing on how I define other behaviors, I seek to understand their perspective and behavior. I ask a lot of questions and check my judgment.
At the end of the day we all have to own our behaviors. As a first step, instead of looking at other’s behaviors as the excuse for our own, I encourage you to check your assumptions and intent first. Then release the need to judge someone’s behavior, just let it be.
As the kids say, “You do you.”