How To Handle Toxic People
There are times when it feels like all the charisma in the world just won’t stop one person from ruining your day.
Now, maybe this person is a complainer, maybe they are a whiner, or maybe there’s someone who is verbally abusive to you but whatever it is, they have this toxic pattern of behavior and it’s really starting to bring you down.
And that’s why in this article, I want to talk about how to handle difficult toxic people in a way that is charismatic but before we get into the steps and there’s four of those, I have to talk about a mindset that not a lot of people like because I get asked this question all the time — “There’s a person in my workplace. What do we do about them? There’s someone in my friend group” or maybe “I even have this family member…”
The answer nine out of ten times is that you need to separate from that person because what’s keeping you close to them is not something that ought to; sometimes it’s a sense of guilt — “We’ve been friends for a long time.
It would be wrong and disloyal of me to separate even though they’re abusive towards me verbally.”
Or maybe it’s a sense of, “I need everyone to like me and the fact that this one person is having an issue, that doesn’t sit well with me so I need to work it out.”
Sometimes you work with them and you feel like, “This is the best job I could possibly get,” and I will tell you, when I’ve talked to people and they have left, no one has ever regretted it; you would be shocked how much you can be dragged down by a negative person in the workplace.
So before we get into the steps to change this, just know in the back of your head that there may come a time when you do need to walk and sometimes it can even be with family but I’ll talk about that; for now, the four steps.
Find the timing to approach a toxic person
The first thing and probably the most important one is that you need to approach this person in a way that is completely different from how you’ve ever approached them because chances are, you’ve tried to change this behavior in the past.
They come home from work, maybe it’s your roommate, and they just unload.
They start complaining about their day, the sports team, the weather or whatever and you always try to kind of cheer them up.
The time to actually change that behavior is not right when they’re complaining because if it was, it would have worked by now.
Give them a sense that you’re approaching them differently
In this case, you might want to wait, let them unload, and then a few hours later say,
“Hey, I’ve been kind of worried about you. Do you have a minute to talk?”
That’s gonna put them to, “Whoa, what’s going on here?” and it’s gonna open them up, break their pattern, and now you guys have a chance to speak.
If you guys just get into it — you guys start shouting and yelling — in the middle of an argument, you might find that just getting really quiet and saying,
“I really care about you and it’s upsetting that we fight like this,” that can shift the entire tone and where you’ve been trying to get your point across, all of a sudden, they’re cracked wide open because it’s a shift in pattern.
So whatever it is, shift the time, shift the place, and shift the way that you approach the situation; this is the most important step for getting that person receptive to changing any kind of bad pattern.
I will tell you, one of the things that most often is a break and really opens people up is this phrase — “I just wanted to let you know, I care a lot about our relationship and it’s not where I’d like it to be and I’d like to make it better so can we talk about it?”
That’s not something that a lot of people do. They don’t do it with their friends, their family, and coworkers and oftentimes, aside from just breaking their state, it makes them not feel attacked because when you come and you say, “You’ve got to stop complaining,” that person locks down and now you’re attacking their behavior and they feel like you’re attacking who they are.
But when you come in and say, “I care about a relationship,” now you’re moving towards a solution together.
Think concretely what you want a toxic person to change
So that’s the first thing — open them up.
But before you do this, you have to come in with a specific ask.
You need to know concretely what behavior you want to stop and what behavior you want to see instead.
What a lot of people do here is they come in and they say, “I just don’t want you to complain all the time” or “I just wish you weren’t such a jerk,” and this just creates an argument almost every single time because now you’re talking about, “I don’t complain all the time” or “who’s a jerk? Me? I’m not a jerk. You’re a jerk.”
Instead, get concrete about the behavior that you want to see.
For instance, today, when we were picking out the movie, you were focused on how my movie was a dumb idea and instead, rather than just,
“Hearing how my idea wasn’t the best one, I would appreciate if you would talk about something instead that we both might like,” or if it’s someone that constantly is being verbally abusive you could say,
“Look, you called me a loser on this occasion and this occasion and I want to ask you, please, don’t ever call me a loser again.”
Now, when you’ve already set this situation up by coming in a way that breaks their pattern, this concrete ask is one that almost always hits and it even better when you say, “I also want to open the floor here. If there’s something that I’m doing concretely that you can tell me that’s making this hard for us to have a really good relationship, let me know because I want this to be good. I’m not just telling you that you’re the jerk; I just want us both to be happier in our interactions with each other.”
Ask permission to remind them gently if they do the negative behavior again
That sort of reciprocity goes a long, long way.
So you’ve done this, you guys are conversing, you’re probably having the first
good conversation you’ve had in a long time… one thing that you’re going to want to do to make this go forward and not just be a one-time thing that immediately slips back is ask their permission to gently remind them.
And what this means is that there’s gonna be times when you guys are out where this person just has a habit of being critical and say negative things and you’re out in public and they start saying, “Oh, yeah. My buddy is such a loser, right?” and they might just get caught up in this, what you want to have done and said in this conversation is, “If it does come up again where you call me a loser, is it okay with you if I just give you a little tap and say, ‘Hey, man. Remember?’ because I don’t want that to happen.”
So you say this previously, now you’re in the situation they start to go into it, and you give him that tap and you go, “Hey, man. Remember what we talked about?” and they can shut it down right there. They don’t have to feel embarrassed and not everybody around needs to know about it, they’re not getting called out in an aggressive way and they’ve given you permission — this is so, so huge — to give them that gentle nudge.
So all that push back that they might have felt is quelled a little bit.
They’re gonna be much more open to actually adjusting their behavior in real time.
Keep this up and do this with all of the behaviors that aren’t working.
If you need to you might have to do it a couple times with someone who is especially difficult or toxic and this can go a long, long way.
Now, I want to talk about the cases that are really, really hard the edge cases — and oftentimes, this is family because quite frankly, a lot of people come to me with financial ties — my boss, my co-workers, my this or that and I’ve said this but I just want to reiterate, I have never spoken to someone who was at a job, they were in a toxic work environment, they got out of it, they were nervous and they regretted it.
Maybe it took him a minute to get back on their feet financially but they always did better off and I think back to my own childhood where my dad had a boss that was a great jerk for years and I saw it play out in him and I know, even that he was the breadwinner in our household, I would have preferred — and it did eventually happen if you work presents during Christmas I would have preferred we didn’t have to to move to a smaller house so that my dad didn’t have to take that.
So if you think that you’re doing the right thing for your family or for yourself by just enduring abuse, trust me, it comes out in other ways and it makes you irritable; it’s not worth it.
So break that scenario, get out, you will appreciate it, and I think the people around you will appreciate it too but going back to family, sometimes there’s patterns that are just stuck and this can occur sometimes when you have substance abuse in a family and I’ve gotten these questions and they’re so hard.
Somebody’s dad or somebody’s brother is just destroying their life and they love this person but they don’t know what to do.
And they’ve done this thing and it’s just not clicking. What can you do in this scenario?
Well, really, the best thing that you can do is recognize that oftentimes, you are not the person who is equipped to help them.
So you want to take this entire step which is going to be to find a time, break their pattern, come up with an ask, ask them to be gently reminded but the ask is going to shift to change this behavior, “Don’t drink so much or don’t do drugs” to “come to therapy with me” or “attend Alcoholics Anonymous just for a month to check it out. Go to Landmark Forum…” whatever it is, you’re going to and want to enlist the aid of a professional third party because when it is something as serious as substance abuse or it’s a long-standing family dynamic of abuse, it’s often not enough to just ask for surface-level behavior changes.
You guys need ongoing support; you need a third party to get in there.
If it doesn’t work, and this can sometimes be the case, you do have a difficult decision and that’s whether to accept this person as they are — there might be negativity, there might be verbal abuse, there could be something even worse like physical abuse — and you can accept that; I don’t recommend it.
Or you can separate and that is so hard.
I don’t envy anyone who has to make this decision but I do hope to just impart one bit of courage on to you if you find yourself in this situation that separating from them in that moment doesn’t mean that you’re separating forever and in fact, you’re not necessarily doing them kindness by staying and allowing such a miserable situation to perpetuate itself.
Sometimes, separating can signal that you are serious that what you want with them is an excellent positive relationship and that you’re not going to settle while they destroy their life around you; it doesn’t always create the change but tacitly approving of what they’re doing and allowing it to continue isn’t always the best way and I know that this is a complicated situation, I don’t mean to insinuate that anyone is doing it wrong, it is so heavy and so complicated but I just wanted to lend that little bit of support if you do find yourself in a situation where you feel like
you might need to untangle yourself from someone who is very, very close to you .
So for 98% of the scenarios, the first steps that we ran through are going to really help.
You’re going to get yourself out of that, you’re going to work with the person, they’re going to change the behavior and I hope that you actually put this into practice.
So that is it for this article; if you’ve enjoyed it, make sure to bookmarks to the websites.
That’s it catch you in the next one. Peace.