Many people look back on "toxic" relationships in their personal life and wonder how they could ever be so dumb. They cannot believe they let the other person take advantage of them, destroy their self-esteem and make them feel so isolated from people who truly cared out them.
But these relationships don't only happen in our personal lives. They also happen in our professional lives and can have such a negative affect that they can destroy or at least inhibit successful careers.
A toxic relationship at work can be tricky because it may be disguised as something else. For example, the older employee at work who "only has your best interests at heart" and so fills your ears with endless gossip about others or tries to make it seem that you're so naive it's amazing you get yourself dressed every morning by yourself. So, you end up doing what she suggests you should be doing -- or not doing -- because she is just looking out for you.
Or, there is the colleague who is the martyr. You know the one who sighs heavily when he's asked to do something. Then, he gives this shrug and a fake, brave smile as if he's been called to man the foxhole against a horde of alien invaders all by himself. "Sure," his voice wavers. "I can do that." You end up feeling like the worst person ever, so you say, "No, no! That's OK. I can do it myself." Even though the task should really be done by him and it means you'll have to stay late -- again.
How about the team member who uses so much charm you feel like you've just inhaled five pounds of cotton candy? This team member constantly tells you how awesome and wonderful and super-duper you are, as she merrily leaves for the weekend while shoving her work on you. You don't feel like you can speak up because, well, she's a friend, right? Or, is she....
All of these relationships share one thing in common: They are unequal. These people have found a way to burden you so that you feel manipulated or bullied or just depressed.
It won't take long before their behavior will start to affect your job performance. You will begin to lack energy and enthusiasm, your creativity will wane and you'll struggle to get through the day. You may even start to hate your job or your company when what you really hate is the way such people make you feel.
If you think this is happening, here are some things to think about:
1. Name it and own it. Be clear about what is happening. Stop trying to make excuses for the other person. Name how interactions with them make you feel.
2. Take action. Others are getting by with such behavior because you are letting them. When someone starts to whine, gossip or brown nose, quickly find somewhere else to be. If you can't make a quick exit, stop making eye contact. Cross your arms, tap your toe or shift your body away from them -- anything to show you're not listening and have already mentally left the area.
3. Enlist allies. Chances are you're not the only one who is being exposed to toxic behavior. Look for team members who may be willing to help you "escape" these conversations. Or, try to be around more positive-minded colleagues. They're sort of like garlic to vampires -- toxicity spreaders would rather be elsewhere when there are positive, upbeat people hanging around.
Remember that these people only gained control over you and your emotions because you let them. Just tell yourself it's time to take back what you gave them -- right now.