#AskRevela – Toxic People

Let us be your leadership “Google.” Ask Revela!

Recently, we began asking those we work with to provide us with questions they’d like answered or things they’ve been struggling with. The next question we’d like to address is…

As a team leader, how do you prevent a toxic person from contaminating a team?
 – Kim


Dear Kim,

People with toxic attitudes can easily bring a whole team down. And as a team lead, sometimes you may not have control over whether or not a person stays employed with a company. So what can you do?

Start by trying to understand the person. This toxic person may very well have a low sense of self-awareness. People who are considered “toxic” tend to believe that others are against them. They might believe they have to eat, or be eaten. Sometimes, they may even lack the ability to manage their own emotions and feelings; and don’t necessarily see their behavior as an issue. They can even subconsciously enjoy offending others or being the victim. Have a conversation with this person. Ask questions so that you can gauge this person’s beliefs. Work to understand what he/she is motivated by. (P.S. You should do this with every person on your team.)

Create some team norms. This is where you get your team together and, as a group, decide how you will work together and how you will treat each other.

  • Encourage your team to adopt a NO DRAMA policy. Then, give them the permission to call each other out (in a respectful way) when they see drama brewing.
  • Another great norm to consider is SOLUTIONS-FOCUSED. As the leader of your team, people probably come to you with issues and expect you to solve them. And toxic people tend to find more problems than others, yet typically bring no solutions to the table. If a person on your team has an issue or wants to complain, make it a rule that they are also required to bring a possible solution. This will allow you to redirect to the solution in the event things become emotional. It’ll also give you permission to put a stop to the conversation if no solution has been presented.

Stay out of the drama. It’s easy to get caught up in emotional situations. As human beings, we tend to model the behavior of those around us, so practice self-awareness. We all have a choice in how to react or respond to drama. Make sure you’re taking the high road and setting the example for your team. You want them to model your behavior, not the behavior of the toxic person.

Encourage positivity. Give this person, and everyone else on your team, feedback when you see them demonstrating the “Glass Half-Full” mentality. Look for people who are encouraging to others, who focus on solutions, and who are genuinely positive even in the worst circumstances. Not only does this reinforce positive behavior, but it may help change the behavior of the toxic person. They say, “What gets rewarded, gets repeated.”

If we focus on the negativity, we will unintentionally start creating it ourselves. As a leader, you must do all you can to address this person’s behavior. These solutions will help your whole team, but you also need to tackle the issue individually with the person. Believe in positive intent. As we mentioned in the beginning, it’s possible that this person doesn’t realize he/she is displaying this behavior or affecting the rest of the team. So be specific in your examples and make sure you document your conversations using a personal feedback log or journal. It’s amazing what you can do with just a few small changes and effective feedback.

And if you need help, send us an email. We’re happy to help in any way we can!

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