The dictionary defines toxic as “containing or being poisonous material especially when capable of causing death or serious debilitation” as well as “harsh, malicious, or harmful.”
Toxic people are “hurt people who hurt people.” They deal with their brokenness by inflicting it on unsuspecting bystanders. When I think of toxic people, the list of attributes can range from the annoying to the harmful:
- Verbally Abusive
Before I give you a handful of strategies to communicate with them, indulge my frustration as I think aloud: “WHY?” Why do we put ourselves in harm’s way by interacting with them on a daily basis? Worse yet, why do companies keep paying these people while they infect the culture?
We won’t solve that problem today. I get it. But before I move on to communication strategies, let me say this: if you have the power to protect others from these types, rise to the occasion and lead. If you are the toxic person in the room, get help today.
Now, my top three communication rules when you must swim among piranhas:
First: Save Your Breath
If you must interact or collaborate with one of them, focus on the work to be done rather than playing hero and trying to change the culprit. In the words of an ancient proverb, “Don’t bother correcting mockers [toxic people]; they will only hate you.”
Second: Fight Anger with Knowledge
Toxic people push your buttons, and you’ll be tempted to retaliate. The good news is that you have more power over your emotions than you think.
According to neuroscientist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, your anger should only last for 90 seconds. If your anger lasts for more than 90 seconds, she says, it is because you are replaying the old story in your mind. As it turns out, your ability or tendency to stay angry is connected to the communication going on inside your brain. Every time you replay the story that triggered the reaction, you retrigger the circuit and the response over and over again.
In other words, every time you choose to think toxic, painful, or angry thoughts, you create a physical response in your body as well. By replaying the story, you not only keep your mind in a toxic space, but your body experiences the emotion created by the anger or pain again and again.
“No one can make us angry without our permission,” she says. Our thoughts stimulate our response, not someone else’s.
Easier said than done, but it’s true.
Third: Choose to Pivot Instead
- Take a deep breath instead of yelling back.
- Confront the behavior without attacking the person.
- Protect yourself and others (by taking a decisive stand).
- If pain, not evil, is behind the toxic behavior, proceed with grace. Love and kindness can be irresistible and powerfully healing.
You can do this!