Toxic People – Different Worlds

If you haven’t read my post on Toxic People, please take the opportunity to do so now.

Ok, ready?

Many years ago I had to work with John Doe. Within ten minutes of talking to him – after he’d been hired – I knew several things: John was a pretty darn smart guy. John had an easy-going personality. John had in-depth knowledge of the type of work we did, and knew the buzzwords to prove it. John was a little weak on the documentation side, but most techies are. John didn’t mind sharing information about his own life. John had some problems with letting other people participate in the conversation.

That last one is what I call, “A CLUE.” I really should have paid more attention to it at the time. The management that made the hire/no-hire decision REALLY should have paid attention to it.

See, if a smart person can’t shut up long enough to let someone else finish a statement, they are A) Rude, B) Egotistical, and C) Blind.

You can’t have an in-depth discussion or transfer of information with someone who is Rude. They will keep interrupting you whenever they feel like it. Their reason is simple: You’re just not good enough compared to them, you don’t know as much as they do, and, frankly, you’re not as smart as they are. They have stopped seeing you as a person. They have stopped listening to you. What you have to say isn’t important. They already know the answer. You’re not worthy of listening to.

You can see the Egotistical part already. They already know the answer because they already know what you’re going to say. Talk about a Geek Social Fallacy! Once a person becomes so impressed by their own knowledge, skill, and ability that they stop listening to people in general, they have become the problem. They are so certain of their own greatness that they can’t even conceive of the “help” they’re giving you is actually toxic.

Once they stop listening, they quickly become Blind. They can’t see that they’re actually damaging the person they’re talking to. Since they have stopped listening to you, and willfully blinded themselves, they will cheerfully lead you off a cliff – dragging you the entire way in spite of your yelling, screaming, and pleading to stop before you both die. In a business situation, if they are not the manager, they won’t be there for long… unless the management is also toxic.

Now, if you’ve read this far, and thought about what I’ve written, I’d like to point something out. Rudeness, especially the egotistical, casual kind, was actually the second Clue that John Doe was a Toxic Person. The first Clue was his buzzword proficiency. See, the hire/no-hire management didn’t actually give him even a simple test of basic competence (do you know where the on/off switch is on this model of equipment that you say you’re expert on?). They certainly didn’t invite any of the techie staff in to ask questions and make sure personalities wouldn’t clash, or, maybe, find out that John Doe was extremely good at talking the talk, but only mediocre at being a techie — in that environment. Talking is only so much hot air. Actions make the difference. However, being able to talk well, speak to the benefit of the listener, and use good people skills in the process will determine whether your John Doe is a Toxic Person, or not.

Don’t get me wrong – John Doe had techie smarts. But because he was in that particular kind of work environment, dealing with the personality types that already worked there, he became a Toxic Person. Three full-time staff lost six months of effort trying to contain the poison. That’s four (including John Doe) full-time employees dedicating 90% of their 50-hour work week to… poisoning. That’s some expensive damage control on so many levels.

When John Doe left that work environment, he was hired into a different one. There, from the little bit I heard, he wasn’t a Toxic Person. And I am very glad.

So watch out for people who might be Toxic to you: They talk a good game, use casual rudeness in conversation as a habit, and do not listen to you. The other lesson is this: Toxic People may be Toxic to you, but not to others. But you still need to get them out of your life.

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