There's nothing you can learn from negative people, right? Avoiding them is the best plan?
For most of us, that's true--particularly because a bad attitude tends to rub off on everyone in the office. But you can also learn a few things about why people get angry, what makes them so miserable, and how to avoid some of the same pitfalls.
Before you try to "learn" from toxic people, guard yourself.
It's a trap that could lure you in. One day you are a happy employee, the next you are filled with rage and figuring out your exit strategy. From what we know about brain science, we all have a penchant to dwell on negative thoughts and let them simmer. They come easier to us, probably because it takes less effort than actually coming up with solutions.
In my experience, some exposure to the office curmudgeons can teach you a few things about what works better, as long as it is in small doses. Here are a few lessons.
1. Learn how to bounce away problems
I love the idea of the bounce principle, which someone told me about many years ago. Basically, it's a way of dealing with stress and negative thoughts. Just cast them aside immediately and think about other topics. As far as learning how this works for toxic people, they never do this. They don't bounce anything. In fact, every comment, sideways glance, and negative experience seems to cling to them and create a dark cloud. (That's why almost every article you will read about toxic people has a dark cloud involved or a dark, creepy photo, including this one.) You can watch this happen in real time. A negative person seems to almost crave toxicity. They are a sponge for it, and they seem helpless to the cloud forming. My advice: Bounce those thoughts away immediately.
2. Avoid "something better" syndrome
Toxic people are always talking about "something better" in work and life. They tend to be irritable and edgy because whatever they are experiencing now is not good enough. Just a small dose of exposure to this can be deadly, so once you notice it at work, try to avoid this type of thinking as much as possible. The real truth? You don't know if there is a better place to work, or a better job, or a better boss. Granted, you may be in a working environment that is toxic and you need to leave, but for most of us, you are probably in a reasonably healthy workplace--you took the job with high hopes, and it's not a bad strategy to keep having those high hopes. For some reason, toxic people always think "the next thing" will be better, no matter what it is. More than anything, that creates a hopeless existence.
3. Pay attention to who is investing in you
Another interesting trait with all toxic people is that they tend to move in packs. The toxic cloud expands, latches onto a new person, and forms a dark bond. Bad company corrupts, as they say, and it also makes you miserable. When you see a group of complainers, take a second to think about who you are around the most. My advice is to choose people who will invest in you, who want to see you grow and become a better person. There's no toxic sludge inside of these folks; they won't wear you out with negativity and bitterness. Keep an eye out for people who have insight and a positive outlook. If you are surrounded by miserable people, there's a good chance you're going to also end up being miserable as well.