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6 Toxic behaviors you'll find in your career - and how my ex partner taught me how to deal with them!

As regular readers of my blog will know it's a collection of IT related stories - with a slant towards Agile project management (which is a real passion for me)

I'm aware it's become very agile focused of late so thought it about time I threw a few other stories into mix! Don't worry I have lots of exciting agile stories in the pipeline, including a series focusing upon specific terms and ceremonies - velocity, stand-ups, the importance of a well groomed back log! and technical debt to name but a few.

As regular readers will also be aware, I'm a big, big LinkedIn fan. Feel free to review my profile and connect with me @ linkedin.christianmiles.com  (yes... a total blatant plug for myself there)

So back to my blog.... I was reading a story on LinkedIn a few days back entitled "6 Toxic behaviours that push people away" - I read a lot of stories on LinkedIn - but this one had some real relevancy to me.

I always aim to keep my blog more or less strictly professional, the odd sailing story or MX5 story perhaps sneaks in! but not too many truly personal stories!  however I was recently inspired by a pod cast I listened to by Lewis Howes where he shared some truly emotional insights into his past and himself - so spurned on by his candid honesty I decided I'd share a little more about my life with you. 

A number of years back (I don't want to be specific in order to protect her identify)  I was involved with a partner who I later discovered suffered from many traits associated with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder)  and also exhibited very strong narcissistic traits - she performed extremely well in her career quickly climbing the ranks...... in private she suffered with anxiety, stress, depression, self harming, impulsive behaviour, suicide gestures, attempted suicides, numerous attention seeking hospital visits and to boot was a pathological liar - She was somewhat hard to live with and to support emotionally but none the less in time I began to 'own' a lot of her problems! 

But getting back to my LinkedIn story - one of the interesting things is that she exhibited every one of the six toxic behaviours listed in the article!   

OK - first of all what are these Toxic behaviours :-

1. Taking things personally

These are the people that take everything as a personal insult... you explain why a project can't be delivered on time, or that for a technical reason things need to be a particular sequence...  they look at you as if you've personally insulted them. Perhaps with just that 'look' you know the one! or perhaps full on loosing their temper and shouting! they've already crossed the line mentally - their no longer listening to you but want to make sure you know you've annoyed them and their displeased with you!

2. Obsessing over negative thoughts

People who can't draw the positives out of a situation - they dwell on what's gone wrong - the negatives, their lives are always skewed to see things in the worse possible light.

I managed an implementation of a large system a number of years ago into UAT and later Live, the process of moving into UAT wasn't smooth, it highlighted data issues and implementation plan issues and a few defects! Good I thought, we've discovered these items moving into UAT, no harm done and lessons learn't! (I'd scheduled the actual customer testing several weeks after the test run into UAT)  however certain members of staff were obsessive about the negatives - that the first deployment into a UAT environment hadn't worked first time - all was doom and gloom and they couldn't understand how such a thing could happen!

The actual release into live was perfect with no issues! thanks to those lessons learn't! 

3. Treating yourself like a victim

Believing your a victim and there's nothing you can do to change things. I see this mentally all the time - it's toxic and soul destroying. If you don't believe in yourself how can you expect anybody else too?

We all have the power to change our lives, to take control to be masters of our own destiny - if you don't like an aspect of your life change it! perhaps in small ways at first - but set yourself a goal and start working towards it. It's a much overused cliche... but you really can accomplish anything if you set your mind to it! 

People can only treat you as a victim if you let them - own your life and live it your way.

4. Cruelty - Lacking empathy (or the ability to put yourself in somebody else's shoes)

This is one of the worse toxic behaviours - and I'm sure we've all witnessed it. It was also one of the biggest issues my ex suffered with (although interestingly she had learn't the importance of faking empathy!)  but she struggled with the concept of empathy - her life was always more important, contained more drama and stress that she just didn't have time to consider how others felt or how her actions may affect others.

5. Excessive re-activity 

An inability to manage your emotions is toxic to all around, these are the people who yell at those around because something isn't quite right, reacting out of all proportion to the issue. I remember numerous conversations my ex had with people where she would end up screaming and shouting at them either in person or over the phone...... including smashing up a few mobiles - just to show how upset she was to everyone!

6. Needing constant validation.

Needing to measure yourself by how others perceive you! The need to prove your self-worth constantly... often at other's expense. Not having a solid core sense of self-worth and identity  and instead defining themselves by how others view them - never happy or feeling secure.

I'm sure most people have witnessed a good number of these toxic personalities throughout their career. I must add that I've also worked with some fantastic colleagues, clients and managers - people who inspire you and encourage you to strive for more, are supportive, great mentors and problem solvers! 

We all come across these characters throughout life - we will perhaps have to work with them as managers, colleagues, customers and staff we have to manage!

I've been very privileged to have witnessed these traits up close, to have lived with somebody who suffers everyday with these issues - I've seen the root causes of such behaviour, I've been lucky enough to have spoken to many experts in the field and to understand the psychology behind these behaviours - I also know that the people who behave this way are scared, they live in fear of being discovered for who they really are, their big talk and aggression is a defence mechanism to protect the little girl or boy inside who never really got to grow up in the real world.

These toxic behaviours are not your fault - don't take any of it personally, that's not to say you should ignore constructive feedback - quite the opposite! but don't own other people's problems, abuse or thoroughly bad mannered meeting etiquette!! 

Much of these reactions are either a form of projection - projecting their inner fears, inabilities or lack of knowledge or confidence onto you! it's a defence mechanism to divert attention - because there not equipped with the skills to handle or solve such problems.

Or worse it's a form of control and manipulation -   The manager who gets angry when you relay bad news or looks hurt when you explain that a project will be late - is probably doing it to stop you relaying that news... to shutdown conversation - to discourage your from bringing these issues to them!

This is poor management - a good manager has the trust and respect of their team, people feel free and able to be honest and frank - allowing problems to be seen earlier and addressed. A good manager will be a problem solver - they will own issues or give advice about how to tackle it - or handle clients expectations and come up with that all important plan 'B' or 'C'!

Forget about changing people in your life who exhibit these characteristics - as somebody who tried desperately to get my former partner into counselling to 'help' them recover - I know you can't own their problems or 'fix' them. All you can do is take care of your own happiness.

In a work environment - always treat these personalities with the same respect and good manners you would anyone else, but remain truthful to yourself, your moral compass and professionalism  and remember their outbursts are a sign of how they handle stress and life and their own abilities rather than yours! 

I promise the next blog will be less deep and hopefully more IT related!


Christian Miles