24 October 2023

Smart ways of working with toxic people

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Difficult people drive you crazy because their behaviour is so irrational — so why do you allow yourself to respond to them emotionally and get sucked into the mix?

Difficult people drive you crazy because their behaviour is so irrational — so why do you allow yourself to respond to them emotionally and get sucked into the mix? Photo: File.

Travis Bradberry says toxic co-workers can raise your stress levels and eventually harm your health. He suggests ways to neutralise their influence over you.

Toxic people defy logic. Some are blissfully unaware of the negative impact they have on those around them, others seem to derive satisfaction from creating chaos and pushing other people’s buttons.

Either way, they create unnecessary complexity, strife, and worst of all, stress.

Studies have long shown that stress can have a lasting, negative impact on the brain.

Exposure to even a few days of stress compromises the effectiveness of neurons in the hippocampus — an important brain area responsible for reasoning and memory.

Stress is a formidable threat to your success. When stress gets out of control, your brain and your performance suffer.

Most sources of stress at work are easy to identify. It’s the unexpected sources of stress that take you by surprise and harm you the most.

Research from Friedrich Schiller University in Germany found exposure to stimuli that cause strong negative emotions – the same kind of exposure you get when dealing with toxic people – caused subjects’ brains to have a massive stress response.

Whether it’s negativity, cruelty, the victim syndrome, or just plain craziness, toxic people drive your brain into a stressed-out state that should be avoided at all costs.

The ability to manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure has a direct link to your performance.

READ ALSO Understanding your own tendencies can help you relate to others

In research for my new book, Emotional Intelligence Habits, I found that 90 per cent of top performers were skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress.

One of their greatest gifts is the ability to neutralise difficult people. Top performers have well-honed coping strategies they employ to keep difficult people at bay.

While I’ve run across numerous effective strategies that smart people employ when dealing with toxic people, what follows are some of the best.

They set limits: Complainers and negative people are bad news because they wallow in their problems and fail to focus on solutions.

They want people to join their pity party so that they can feel better about themselves.

People often feel pressure to listen to complainers because they don’t want to be seen as callous or rude, but there’s a fine line between lending a sympathetic ear and getting sucked into their negative emotional spiral.

You can avoid this only by setting limits and distancing yourself when necessary.

A great way to set limits is to ask complainers how they intend to fix the problem. They will either quiet down or redirect the conversation in a productive direction.

They rise above: Difficult people drive you crazy because their behaviour is so irrational — so why do you allow yourself to respond to them emotionally and get sucked into the mix?

The more irrational and off-base someone is, the easier it should be for you to remove yourself from their traps.

Quit trying to beat them at their own game and distance yourself from them emotionally. You don’t need to respond to the emotional chaos — only the facts.

They stay aware of their emotions: You can’t stop someone from pushing your buttons if you don’t recognise when it’s happening.

Sometimes you’ll find yourself in situations where you’ll need to regroup and choose the best way forward.

This is fine and you shouldn’t be afraid to buy yourself some time to do so.

They establish boundaries: This is the area where most people tend to sell themselves short.

They feel that because they work or live with someone, they have no way to control the chaos. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Once you’ve found your way to rise above a person, you’ll begin to find their behaviour more predictable and easier to understand.

This will equip you to think rationally about when and where you have to put up with them and when you don’t.

If you set boundaries and decide when and where you’ll engage with a difficult person, you can control much of the chaos.

They don’t die in the fight: Smart people know how important it is to live to fight another day, especially when your foe is a toxic individual.

READ ALSO With change a constant, there’s no better time to build workplace resilience

When you read and respond to your emotions, you’re able to choose your battles wisely and only stand your ground when the time is right.

They don’t focus on problems — only solutions: Where you focus your attention determines your emotional state.

When you focus on actions to better yourself and your circumstances, you create a sense of personal efficacy that produces positive emotions and reduces stress.

When it comes to toxic people, fixating on how crazy and difficult they are gives them power over you.

Quit thinking about how troubling your difficult person is, and focus instead on how you’re going to go about handling them.

This puts you in control, reducing the amount of stress you experience when interacting with them.

They don’t forget: Emotionally intelligent people are quick to forgive, but that doesn’t mean they forget.

Forgiveness requires letting go of what’s happened so you can move on, it doesn’t mean you’ll give a wrongdoer another chance.

They quash negative self-talk: There’s nothing wrong with feeling bad about how someone is treating you, but your self-talk (the thoughts you have about your feelings) can either intensify the negativity or help you move past it.

Negative self-talk sends you into a downward emotional spiral that is difficult to pull out of. You should avoid negative self-talk at all costs.

Travis Bradberry is the award-winning co-author of the bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the co-founder of TalentSmart. His books have been translated into 25 languages and are available in more than 150 countries. He can be contacted at TalentSmart.com. This article first appeared on the TalentSmart website.

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