Successful, happy, likeable people tend to be able to set boundaries better than others and are good at speaking up for themselves in a respectful yet firm fashion. For others, especially some who are highly sensitive, it can be a real struggle to set boundaries using assertive speech. As a career coach I’m often surprised and troubled when I see a highly talented, emotionally intelligent person with a fine personality flounder in his/her work and in his personal life because he’s distracted and/or intimidated by an oppressive person in her life.
It could also feel awkward or intimidating to confront this person may it be your boss, co-worker, mother-in-law, sibling, spouse or parent. They may be ill, feeling they’ve been cheated or lacking what they need in terms of love and emotional support. We often excuse people who are negative and toxic to us because they may be going through a difficult stage in their lives. Such people need to be listened to, supported, and cared for (although whatever the cause of their moodiness and negativity, you may still need to protect yourself from their behavior at times).
7 Strategies to Break Away From Toxic People
1. Identify the Toxic People
A toxic person isn’t necessarily one who’s disliked by everyone. Sometimes this person can even come off as charming to those outside his/her immediate circle. The way you can know if a person is toxic is when s/he exhibits any one of these behaviors:
- vitriolic speech slandering another person
- consistently talks about and complains about another person, group of people (or you)
- shows no real interest in you, your life or your challenges
- tries to extract pity from his listener for his cause
- insists you side with him in a vocal manner
- vents to many people
- urges you to participate in the conflict to attack another part
- can’t hear anyone else’s perspective
- blind to seeing their own destructive behavior
- obsessed with a particular conflict
- can’t have a conversation without mentioning it
- ostracizes those who won’t side with her
When bitterness and negative speech is a person’s primary topic for conversation, this should raise a red flag that this person is toxic. Toxic people often engage in conversation based on a negative rant and work hard to get others to buy into their cynical worldview. The toxic person is consumed by his negative bias and blind to how others perceive him or his situation. Spreading gossip and hate is likened to a sport for these people. Left unbridled, the toxic person will eventually repel even those who were once close friends or close family members.
2. Don’t Get Caught Off Guard With a Toxic Person: Plan Ahead
Whether the toxic person in your life is a co-worker, your boss, your mother-in-law or a friend, don’t allow the behavior to persist by spending any extra time with this person. Keep conversations brief and don’t share personal information with this person, as they often will just use it against you.
Marc Chernoff says in his book, 1000 Little Things Happy Successful People Do Differently; gives tips on smart ways to deal with toxic people. He suggests that in setting boundaries with toxic people you should practice compassion, depersonalize their attacks, speak up and limit your contact and above all, never succumb to thinking that their toxic behavior is ok.
3. Practice Practical Compassion
Sometimes it makes sense to be sympathetic with toxic people whom you know are going through a difficult time, or those who are suffering from an illness. There’s no question about it, some toxic people are genuinely distressed, depressed, or even mentally and physically ill, but you still need to separate their legitimate issues from how they behave towards you. If you let people get away with abusive behavior because they are distressed, facing a medical condition, or depressed, even, then you are in essence allowing them an opening to use their unfortunate circumstance to perpetuate a cycle of bullying.
4. Don’t Take their Toxic Behavior Personally
It’s them, not you. KNOW this.
Toxic people will likely try to imply that somehow you’ve done something wrong. This may engender your feelings of guilt in their victims, even the implication that we might have done something wrong can hurt our confidence and unsettle our resolve. Don’t let this happen to you.
Remember, there is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally. Most toxic people behave negatively not just to you, but to everyone they interact with. Even when the situation seems personal – even if you feel directly insulted – it usually has nothing to do with you. What they say and do, and the opinions they have, are based entirely on their own self-reflection. (Angel and Marc discuss this in more detail in the “Relationships” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
5. Set Clear Boundaries: Speak Up!
It’s okay to let a person know what they’re doing that you find offensive. However, don’t fall into the trap of expecting they’ll be able to digest or empathize with you. Toxic people are usually narcissistic so they can’t see outside of themselves as they are emotionally stunted in the area of empathy.
6. Stop Pretending Their Toxic Behavior is OK
Toxic people don’t change if they are being rewarded for not changing. Decide this minute not to be influenced by their behavior. Stop tiptoeing around them or making special pardons for their continued belligerence. Constant drama and negativity is never worth putting up with.
I suggest that in addition to Marc’s ideas you add one more smart step to dealing with toxic people:
7. Move On: Make Other Friends In Their Place
This is the key to your moving forward and becoming self-actualized. You need to find positive people who will support you and feed your positive energy. These positive people will allow and initiate conversation that’s constructive and also show interest in understanding your perspective on life.
Julian Treasure is the chair of the Sound Agency, a firm that advises worldwide businesses — offices, retailers, and hotels — on how to use sound and the author of the book Sound Business. He asks us to pay attention to the sounds that surround us. How do they make us feel: productive, stressed, energized, and acquisitive? Understanding the effects of how we sound both in what we say and how we say things will have a dramatic effect on how well we communicate with others. It could also influence how effective we are in attracting people we want to attract and could determine how well we set boundaries with toxic people.
Avoid these Deadly Sins of Speaking
Speaking ill of somebody who’s not present not only hurts that person’s reputation but it tarnishes yours. People tend to lose trust in someone who is a perpetual gossip as they expect that you’ll do the same about them.
It makes you less likely to be the one people will look to for support, guidance or as a confidante. Beware of being judgmental. It’s not only hurtful to others but it makes others doubt your sensitivity. Judgmental people sound like their the moral authority on matters and that’s a huge turn off in building and maintaining business relationships.
People who are negative tend to drag others down with them. They push people away as they are hard to listen to.
As Treasure says, “complainers are viral misery. “ They spread darkness in the world and shut out the light.
Someone who always is making excuses for their negligence develops a reputation for being irresponsible. People trust those who are accountable for their behavior and naturally would prefer to do business with business with someone who is reliable and stands by her word.
People who exaggerate regularly are often associated with lying. Don’t overstate your opinion. Just call things the way they actually are. This breeds trust. Exaggerators build up false hopes, which more often than not lead to disappointment.
A person who regularly states his opinion for fact loses credibility over time. When you state your opinion, be sensitive that others may disagree with you and that they might have an equally strong view that opposes yours. Sometimes, it’s best to keep your opinions to yourself. As a general rule it’s best to think before you state your opinion so as not to inadvertently offend anyone.
Powerful, Influential Speech Incorporates these Traits
Be straight and clear.
Just be you. Don’t fabricate or exaggerate your skills, abilities or your experience. Spotlight that which is real and let others get to know you for who you truly are.
Actually do what you say will build your trustworthiness.
Wish people well. If you sincerely wish others well they will feel safer with you. It’s the optimal way to avoid being judgmental and will enable you to foster many close friends and supporters.
Take time to be silent
When you take time to pause between your statements, you’ll be seen as more sensitive and open to the person with whom you’re speaking. Try stopping for a few seconds after you share a thought to see/hear the other person’s reaction. This will allow you to proceed with greater sensitivity and attuned to that person, and will help strengthen your connection to him.
Developing and honing your speaking skills could give you the chance to make a greater impact both in your workplace and in your personal life. People prefer to listen to and follow someone whom they feel is attuned to their interests and sensibilities. Those who speak with authenticity, sensitivity and tact will not only make more friends but they’ll build a reputation that could lead to more success.
Summer is an amazing season to revive your spirit and tap into some of the most positive experiences in life. The warm weather, greenery and rampant flora spurs even the most satisfied homebodies to venture outdoors. In general, we go out more; Casual visits with neighbors tend to happen more during the summer months, as do outdoor barbecues, bike rides and walks in the park with family and friends. If summer were a state of mind I would call it ‘awake’ and ‘high spirited,’ ‘casual’ and ‘playful’.
If you take time to absorb the benefits of summer you might also get clarity on what makes you happy year round. It might also give you a moment to reflect on how to preserve this positive energy when the skies turn grey, clouds block the sun’s warm glow and when the natural mood isn’t quite as cheerful.
Using assertive and dignified speech with everyone, including toxic people, will attract those you want in your life and block those who trample on your spirit. Good people are busy doing good things, not harping on the past and on other’s failings. Surround yourself with people who are confident, concerned for your well-being as well as their own and who model positive speech that engages and uplift others. Practice using your speech to speak kindly and when necessary stand up for yourself firmly and yet without excessive emotion. In time you’ll become more productive at work and satisfied with your relationships.