5 Tips on Managing Toxic Personalities

Guess who peed their HazMat suit?

people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

                                             — Dr. Maya Angelou, renaissance woman, acclaimed author, poet and civil rights activist

As a woman running a business operating in a male-dominated industry, I have had more than my fair share of conversations about gender differences in management style, functional skills, work/life harmony, etc.  In these conversations, invariably, the issue of leadership style is discussed and I am asked my opinion about the #banbossy program/movement/campaign. For the record, I support the spirit of the campaign. What I find abhorrent is “bossy” behavior and women who hide behind the “I am a strong women and am being discriminated against” card.

Yes, bossiness is gender agnostic. There are bossy men and bossy women. An encounter with a bossy person can leave one feeling oddly deflated, uncomfortable or just plain outraged. My name for these characters:  jerks.

So how does one handle the jerks – male, female and otherwise – in one’s life?

1. Avoidance

Since life can be stress-filled as is, why not practice stress reduction by avoiding jerks and situations that call for interactions with them. Most jerks either enjoy being so or aren’t aware of the impact of their actions on others. If the jerk in your life falls in the latter, there is a good chance that he/she is not in the right state of mind to take constructive feedback.  Avoidance is the best option most of the time. See item 4 for a diametrically opposed approach.

 2. Minimize Exposure

What if avoidance is not an option? If the jerk is your boss or an in-law, minimize engagement. Only interact for specific transaction-based purposes like status update meetings and limit conversation during mandated interactions during the obligatory gatherings office socials and holiday celebrations.

3. Group Interactions

If the jerk also happens to be the boss, then exposure is more bearable when shared in group settings. Since jerk behavior is often a symptom of deep insecurities within the perpetrator and manifests itself verbally abusive, condescending or passive-aggressive behavior, being part of a group helps to reduce the volume and impact.

The group can also conveniently serve as support group where members “talk out” their frustrations.

4. Intervention

There are some who take the view that most jerks aren’t aware of the impact of their behavior and will want to make a change when made aware of their shortcomings.  Staging an intervention is an option. But only recommended for peers and possibly with relatives. Proceed with Extreme Caution is a mantra worth adopting.

5. Leave

This is an extreme example of “Avoidance” and only available to those with the luxury of leaving their employer.

A tremendous temptation exists to give the boss a piece of your mind on the way out; a la state-funded news outlet RT anchor Liz Wahl who resigned on-air while criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin and the country’s actions in Crimea.  Wahl’s action hasn’t seemed to have had a negative impact on her career so far. But we won’t all have a similar outcome should we voice our criticism during the exit interview.

If leaving is an option, then weighing the possible negative and positive consequences against the satisfaction of giving the jerk a “piece of your mind” is recommended before burning that bridge.

What else? What coping mechanisms have you developed to handle the jerks in your life?

Image credit:

Hero Image by Guy H on Flickr licensed under CC2.0

Featured Image by ElreyBlanco on Flickr licensed under CC2.0 


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