Psychologist and Author Meredith Fuller identifies in her book the manipulative toxic personality. In chapter three of her book Fuller describes how their possessive, manipulative, nasty in a nice way personality can affect you, and what you can do about it.
Fuller explains that you are dealing with a slippery character, one who is driven by unattractive and insincere motives. They love dishing out the dirt on other staff. If you recognise a toxic’s behaviour and gain and understanding of what drives it, you will be better equipped to deal with her.
Some key toxic behaviour includes:
- They are over friendly, grabs your hand or arm while talking, gives you hugs and oversteps physical boundaries.
- They bustle about poking their nose in where it doesn’t belong; protesting that they are only trying to help if anyone asks what they are doing at your desk.
- They unashamedly suck up to senior staff and tries to become indispensable.
- They want you to believe that they are popular, well networked, and wonderful because they need your admiration.
- They are adroit at pressing your buttons – having done their homework on you, they know your weak spots.
- They are highly sensitive to perceived rejection or being ignored, and might unexpectedly lecture you about your terrible behaviour.
- They are somewhat self-deluded, spreading their version of the truth: ‘I suggested those initiatives to the new manager’ or ‘they only got that job because I turned it down first.’
Why does the toxic behave like this?
There are three main reasons behind a toxic person’s behaviour. They can be sweet sulky, moody smarmy, warm or cool, but toxics are never to be trusted. If you understand that their neediness is a bottomless pit, you can establish clear boundaries that limit the effect they can have on you.
- They lack a sense of self – They believe in the image they promote, that they are nicer, better and more knowledgeable than everyone else in the organisation. They have little or no self-awareness making it difficult to communicate with them on a reasonable level.
- They want to be liked – They want to be popular and believe that they can purchase popularity with little favours for people. They spend a lot of time doing ‘nice’ things for people, but every now and again, their nastiness pops out and you witness their Machiavellian streak. They mostly project niceness but their behaviour is eventually exposed as insincere, cloying and draining.
- They have an underlying fear of abandonment or rejection – This fear triggers a burning desire for attention, and turns them into a demanding drama queen. They believe that other people will sympathise with their various plights and support them through their troubles, but by constantly hogging the spotlight, they have the reverse effect on most colleagues.
What to do when you work with a toxic:
Toxic people are easier to deal with if you are the manager rather than a colleague. A manager can legitimately corral them in a way that colleague can’t. Most people appreciate a culture that is clear, firm and fair rather than one that is secretive, manipulative and lacking boundaries. The toxic person is likely to waft around the latter type of organisation. Their helpful activities mask their manipulation. They try to keep you beholden to them, and will try to cling more strongly if they fear that you’re getting away. It is essential to keep boundaries strong and clear with these people, otherwise you run the risk of being depleted, getting sick, feeling exhausted and distressed for hours after any encounter, or emotionally violated.
Some tips on handling the toxic are:
- Whenever possible, keep your distance – literally. Do not stand or sit too close, and limit the interaction of the barest minimum required. Don’t become familiar or personal with them. Keep things impersonal and businesslike.
- Don’t let them change your assessment of others. Trust yourself.
- Don’t trust them with anything confidential. They will stick their nose in where it doesn’t belong and cause terrible trouble for any organisation, innocently mouthing off secrets to impress people with their importance.
- Make sure that other people are familiar with the quality of your work – they will white-ant you behind your back.
- Remind them that you don’t listen to rumours. Discourage any gossip about other staff members. If they mutter little asides that are ambiguous or vicious, ask them in a loud voice, ‘What did you say? What do you mean by that?’ They will probably back pedal very quickly.
- Minimise the impact by showing strong leadership, establishing clear boundaries and using transparent communication.
Working with a toxic person in the office can be stressful and quite possibly make you sick. If you can identify their behaviour and try and work with them in a professional manner can help make your job easier. Keeping your distance from the toxic personality is key to making your job less stressful. If the situation is really extreme it might be an idea to speak to your manager or a physiologist about the situation.