Are you a toxic person? I'm betting your answer is, "No, of course not!" Most of us think of ourselves as kindly and benevolent or, at worst, a little gruff at times but generally good-hearted.

Unfortunately, though, you may not know what effect the things you do and say have on other people. What seemed like good-natured ribbing to you might have been deeply hurtful to someone else. A criticism that you thought was no big deal might have left your co-worker feeling insecure for days. You may have thought you were entertaining your employees with great stories about your exploits when they were only listening because they had to, and were waiting impatiently for a chance to slip away.

Toxic people may only be toxic in certain situations. You could be a wonderful parent and spouse but a tyrant at work. Or a great boss and mentor to the salespeople who work for you but an ogre to your interns. If you are a jerk to some people in some situations, it may be hard to find that out because if you ask, you're unlikely to get an honest answer.

So how can you really tell whether other people see you as toxic or not? To help you figure it out, a blog post at Psychology Today by social science researcher Jeremy Sherman, Ph.D. lists 10 things the most toxic people commonly do. You can find the full list here, but these are the most telling. Ask yourself if you ever do any of the following. If the answer is yes, you may need to rethink some of your behavior or assumptions.

1. Telling others what a good person you are.

A new development being built down the street from our old house had a billboard with the name of the development company above the words "Built With Integrity." That billboard alone made me immediately doubt the quality of the construction and sure enough, they were putting up houses in the rain, which my friends in construction tell me is a recipe for trouble here in the Pacific Northwest. 

People who declare how honest they are always strike me as suspicious because those who really are honest don't feel the need to say so unless they've been accused of wrongdoing. They assume that those qualities are apparent and they understand that if they aren't, bragging won't help. The same goes for things like generosity and conscientiousness, intelligence, and your other good qualities. If you feel the need to tell others about them, ask yourself why.

2. Insisting that other people owe you their trust.

"Don't you trust me?" If you find yourself saying this to someone, it's likely a red flag. If you've earned another person's trust, you won't have to ask for it. If you haven't yet earned it, then you don't yet deserve it and you shouldn't expect it.

The same goes for things like respect and friendship and loyalty. People don't owe you these things, you have to earn them. Telling people to respect you or trust you is very ineffective compared with demonstrating why they should.

3. Believing you hold the moral high ground.

Do you feel like you're morally superior to some of the people around you? These days, many people seem to feel this way. In part, that's because there are so many different ideas of what morality is. Are you more moral if you're self-made rather than getting financial help from your family? If you care about the environment and use only renewable, compostable products? If you are deeply religious? If you make meaningful donations to deserving charities?

Whatever "moral" means to you, chances are it means something else to others. Some of them may even feel that they're the ones who are morally superior to you. 

4. Thinking other people's bad behavior justifies your own. 

"It's OK if I do it since everybody does it." "If I don't do it, someone else will beat me to it." Or worse: "My junior employees shouldn't complain. They're getting off easy compared to what I had to do when I was their age."

Being a jerk is being a jerk, irrespective of anyone else's behavior. And just because you suffered through a difficult time is a bad reason to put someone else through one. (Not to mention that it's a seriously dumb idea in this tight job market because your best employees will go work someplace else.)

5. Assuming that just because you hate something, you would never do it yourself.

"I hate pushy people. I would never be that way." You may truly believe that, and yet it's quite possible to hate it when other people are pushy -- or manipulative, or unfair -- and still act that way yourself. If someone's accused you of doing something you feel certain you would never do, it's worth taking a little time to try and evaluate what you did or said to cause that accusation. It could be that there was a misunderstanding or that they are overly sensitive. But it just might be possible that, without realizing, you've been behaving exactly the way you hate.

If so, whoever alerted you to that behavior did you a favor. Now that you know, you can make some changes.

Published on: Jan 20, 2020
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