Toxic People

You should never be in the company of anyone with whom you would not want to die.

-Duncan Idaho, from God-Emperor of Dune

Some people suck the life out of everyone they encounter.   Whether it be through lies, unreasonable demands, emotional abuse or manipulation, or just a vile personalty, the people they meet are worse off for the encounter.   The people they interact with every day are screwed.

My time is too precious to waste any of it unnecessarily on people who remove value from it.   I like being with people who enrich my life, instead.

Unfortunately, since I’m not an advocate for the use of hitmen, not every toxic person is easy to eliminate from your life.

Toxic people come in 3 basic varieties:  professional, personal, and family.   There is some overlap between the categories.

The personal category is easiest to deal with.  These people aren’t relatives or coworkers, so you won’t see them at family gatherings or at work.     I’ve dealt with these people in two ways.

First, there is the direct approach.  One former friend, who was really only a friend when it was convenient for him(a pure leech), got told that he wasn’t invited to one of our parties because I was inviting his ex-wife, instead.    That was the last time he called me.

The second option is far more passive.   I set up a contact group in my phone called “Life’s too short”.   At first, I set it up with a fairly insulting ring tone, but I later switched it to no ring at all.   I don’t know they’ve called until I check my voicemail.   It’s far less direct, but also far easier than the direct approach.

Dealing with the toxic people in your family is more complicated.   You’ll see them at holiday gatherings, or hear about them during unrelated visits.   You probably have a lot of memories growing up with them, and may feel some level of obligation–deserved or not–to maintain contact.   It’s hard to break a tie that you’ve had your entire life.

Can you fix their behavior?  It’s worth trying to have a frank discussion about how they are treating you, or the things they are doing.    If the problem is that they are constantly bringing over their methhead boyfriends, banning the drug addicts from your home, while still welcoming the relative may be an acceptable fix.  If the problem is a constant need to belittle you, demanding they stop may work.   If the problem is a lifetime of emotional abuse, it probably isn’t fixable.

Is banishment an option?   Can you put that creepy cousin on the Life’s Too Short list?  You’ll still have to deal with him at family gatherings, but you can always leave the room when he comes in, right?   Don’t engage, don’t participate in any conversation beyond a polite greeting, and don’t offer any encouragement towards regular contact.

It’s possible that it won’t be possible to fix their behavior and that you won’t want to banish the offender.   If, for example, the offender is your mother (Not you, Mom!), you may feel a sense of obligation to maintain contact, or even be a primary caregiver at times.     This is a line nobody else can draw for you.   At some point, the current bad behavior could overwhelm the past obligations.   When that happens are you prepared for it?  That can be a traumatic break.

The other option, as cold as it sounds, is to wait it out.  Nature will take its course, eventually.   Can you wait that long, while maintaining your sanity and emotional equilibrium?

Professional toxic people include customers, vendors, and coworkers, none of whom are easy to get rid of.

If you own the business, you can fire your problem customers if the hassle outweighs the benefits you get from the relationship.   You can find a new vendor, and you can fire the problem employees.

What happens if you are an employee?

If the problem is your boss, your options are to suck it up, talk to his boss, or find a new job.   If the first is intolerable, and the second is impossible, it’s time to polish your resume.

If the problem is a vendor, you’ve got some options.   Document the problems, first.  Does he make inappropriate jokes, or badmouth you to your customers?  Then, research the alternatives.   Does one of his competitors offer an equivalent product or service?  Take the documentation and research to your boss, or whoever makes that decision, and see if you can get your company to make the switch.  The other option, is to request someone new to deal with at the vendor’s company, but that may not always be possible.

Finally, we come to the problem of toxic coworkers.

Some coworkers have the same problems as a toxic boss.  Is the company vice-president the boss’s baby brother?   You’re probably not going to find a win there.   You’ll have to suck it up or move on.

Is the problem person working in an unrelated department doing unrelated tasks?   It may be possible to start taking breaks at different times and leave him where he belongs: in the past.

Is the difficult individual sharing an office with you, demanding everything be done his way, and throwing daily tantrums?   This is the one that has to be dealt with.  He’s the one sucking the life out of you every single day.

First, start making use of a voice recorder.  If you’ve got a smartphone, you’ve probably already got one.  Otherwise, drop the $20 to buy one.   This lets you document the evil.   When his behavior goes hinky, record it.

Second, stand up for yourself.  If he’s making unreasonable demands, tell him it’s inappropriate.   He’s a bully, and bullies tend to back down when they are confronted.

Third, make sure the boss knows about the behavior.  Yes, this is tattling.  Get over it.  If he wasn’t acting like he was a spoiled 4 year old, you wouldn’t have to tell the boss that he was.   If the boss doesn’t know there’s a problem, he can’t deal with it.

Fourth, for any problem that isn’t directly aimed at you, ignore it.   If he makes a habit of throwing a tantrum because somebody emptied the coffee pot, or because the company switched health plans, let him.   Only get in the way if it’s directed at you.  Over time, the tantrums will get more noticeable and out of hand, forcing the boss to deal with it, preferably by handing him a pink slip.

Your goal is documentation, awareness, and avoidance.  Make the worst of it go elsewhere so you can be as productive as possible, document what you can, and let the boss become aware of the situation and how bad it has become.   And be patient. This isn’t an overnight fix.

How do you deal with the toxic people in your life?

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    1. Great post. I have dealt with toxic people in my personal life and my professional life. At work it is a lot harder to deal with I admit. There are so many politics involved. If that person is liked by the boss or bullies the boss you don’t have a lot of options to work on removing them so the best you can do is ignore them. In my personal life I try to respond with something positive or if over time there is no improvement, I cease association with them.

    2. Not only would I recommend avoiding a coworker who is toxic, you should stay as far away from them as you possibly can. Eventually, leaders and bosses will see what you see and you don’t want to be caught up in anything. I’ve had a couple of peers where I work that falls into this category. Avoidance is definitely the best in that circumstance. Great post.

    3. I hope thanksgiving is not too hard to take this year as you manage the toxic relatives that may or may not be with you. I hate burning bridges and this makes managing these relationships challenging for me. I suppose I could use some coaching!

    4. I’ve had toxic friends, family and coworkers in my life. Toxic coworker are the worst! But, I treat them all the same. I ignore them and use the “nature” method.

    5. Life is too short to deal with toxic people. I try my best to avoid them, and interact with them as little as possible.

    6. I found the best way to deal with toxic family (which I have) is to have your own way out.

      I used to go places with my brother and couldnt up and leave whenever I want. Since my brother became the toxic one, its nice that I can just up and leave on a whim and not wait for someone.

    7. Unfortunately I’ve just had to cut some toxic personalities out of my life. Of course, it wasn’t a snap judgement, and it took a while to come to that decision. Sometimes, you just have to cut bait and realize that people won’t change.

    8. First gen American says:

      I find toxic family harder to avoid than coworkers. I feel a warped sense of responsibility to include them in my life. Good tips.

      • The worst offender I’ve got is my mother-in-law, who lives two blocks away and is needing more care every year. My wife is an only child, so none of those responsibilities get shared.

    9. Sounds like unfortunately you’ve had some practice dealing with toxic people at work. I wrote a post on scorpions, which basically dealt with the same issues. Advisable to avoid turning your back to these kinds of noxious people, and never trust they’ll change and make nice. They’re incapable of it.

      • Yes. My office-mate threw regular temper tantrums. Full-blown garbage. It was the kind of thing I spank my kids for. Fortunately for the rest of us, the boss finally got sick of it.


    1. […] Jason@LiveRealNow presents Toxic People | Live Real, Now posted at Live Real, Now, saying, “My time is too precious to waste any of it unnecessarily on people who remove value from it. I like being with people who enrich my life, instead. Unfortunately, since I’m not an advocate for the use of hitmen, not every toxic person is easy to eliminate from your life.” […]

    2. […] at Live Real, Now presents Toxic People, saying “My time is too precious to waste any of it unnecessarily on people who remove value […]

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