Everyone knows a toxic person. Maybe you've even ended a friendship over it, or you've had to make conscious efforts to minimize your interaction with a toxic colleague. However, people never think of themselves as toxic.
Toxicity is on a spectrum and rarely is black and white. This means most people have some toxic behaviors or attitudes, even if they pop up only rarely. Your definition of "toxic" might not be the same as someone else's. Odds are, you have at least a few toxic tendencies, but the good news is, you can recognize and correct them.
Be aware of your personal flaws.
This was one thing that I had to work on early in my career. One of my fatal flaws was that I thought I knew it all, and would drop knowledge and then drop the mic, whenever I saw fit. This clearly rubbed many people the wrong way and got in the way of my personal and professional growth. I realized it was my ego getting in the way of graciousness. And the smart-ass, comedic side of my personality needed to be tamed a bit for business consumption. As we stand on the edge of each step in Maslow's Hierarchy, we sometimes think that it means we have mastered the universe. It mostly means that you need to chill out.
According to Kathy Caprino, a women's career coach and consultant, people demonstrate "scores" of these tendencies that consistently push others away. Many of us have seen first-hand how toxicity can destroy relationships, prevent professional success, and ultimately put a permanent damper on your entire life. While there are many examples of this behavior, she's identified six of the most common.
1. Being too sensitive.
Do you take affront to everything, get offended easily, or think it's your personal crusade to "educate" those around you? Maybe you feel the need to grandstand on cultural appropriation, politics, religion, or whatever the current offense du jour is?
People do this for many reasons, whether it's because playing victim makes them feel good or because they believe it's their duty to crusade against injustice, and then they take it way too far. Take nothing personal--because, the vast majority of the time, it isn't personal, and most always, it isn't worth it.
2. Letting negativity consume you.
Thinking the glass is perpetually half empty is one of the most dangerous mindsets you can adopt. Everyone gets down from time to time, but remember that your thoughts breed reality. If your thoughts are always negative, or even the majority are, that bleeds over into your interactions. Being cynical may be a benefit, at times, but if you are negative most of the time, no one will want to be around you or give you a promotion or a raise.
3. Victimizing yourself.
Remember number one? There are many ways to play the victim, including complaining non-stop. Plus, if you believe you're a victim, you'll be treated as such. It's an easy way to get comfort and pampering in the very short term but can become your undoing. Everyone is a victim from time to time, but it's not a role you want to play permanently.
4. No empathy.
Empathy is a learned trait (how many newborns do you see that are empathetic?). Without empathy, cruelty comes easily. Follow the golden rule--it's simple, but it works. Put yourself in other's shoes and you'll naturally strengthen bonds and relationships.
5. Reactivity to the extreme.
It's your job to handle your emotions, and appropriate emotions are dictated based on the situation. If you flip out over every "tragedy" (like the copier breaking down again), you'll be avoided. This isn't what you want in your life. Yes, everyone breaks down from time to time, but maintaining composure is key. Nobody likes a drama queen.
6. Validation seekers.
We all like compliments but if you start seeking out validation whenever you can, you'll be seen as needy, weak, and unreliable. It's your job to nurture your self-esteem, not anyone else's. Man up, buttercup.
If you notice any of these traits in yourself, make a conscious effort to untangle them. These toxic behaviors can create a downward spiral in your life that you may not even realize. Make a mental note when you start to act on them, correct yourself, and you'll re-establish healthier habits in no time.
According to Sarah Austin, who was on the Bravo reality TV show Startups Silicon Valley, she realized that my her life was severely edited. Someone else cut the snippets and put her in or out of context, which sometimes appeared a bit toxic.
When I was a reality TV Star on Bravo's Startups Silicon Valley, I made a mess of my reputation. I just wasn't aware of how much I was talking about feelings rather than thoughts and how "me-centric" my image was becoming.
I should have seen how I was being portrayed, but I couldn't see things out of context. I could only see through my own eyes.
She has since gone on to found a company called Broad Listening, which was built so users can see through other's eyes. The goal is to provide users with a view into how they project themselves online based on natural language processing, data science, and a bit of Myers-Briggs personality scoring. This enables you to discover how you might be viewed as toxic and fix those issues privately so that your public persona isn't damaged.
Ego is the projection of one's self onto everything.
When you have a strong ego, you see yourself as you want others to see you. That can be hugely powerful. But it can also mean that you never see yourself as others actually do, which can be a tremendous weakness. Just because you love purple and love yoga pants doesn't mean that purple yoga pants will look good on you. Ego can give you bad advice. The ego feeds you the thoughts that fuel your narratives.
It's freeing when you realize that you are not the thoughts, the narratives, or the ego. In fact, you can watch all three of those in action. You are the observer. Knowing that, you can monitor your actions and make the necessary adjustments to improve your personality.
Traits are rarely always positive or negative.
Ego can be a strength in some settings. You wouldn't hire a CEO who didn't have a strong ego. But in tech support, it is a failing. Empathy can be a weakness if you feel sorry for the competition, keeping you from getting ahead. Uber wouldn't exist if it felt bad for all of the taxi drivers it is displacing.
A few final insights.
Don't let that urge to be an asshole destroy your personal or professional life. Take the time to be aware of your actions, words, and attitude. This could be the one piece of advice that helps you finally get out of your way and move toward success.