I’ve noticed, and it might not have escaped you either, that an increasing number of people refer to colleagues, co-workers & other people in the workplace as toxic. Serious commentators even use the expression in articles.
A cursory glance at Google will show you just how often this occurs:
I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.
In fact I find it deeply unpleasant. A sort of labelling or ‘othering’ which potentially insults a colleague, perhaps one you genuinely find difficult to work with, and discredits the person using the expression.
I’m not naive. We have all dealt with colleagues who behave in ways which are unpleasant. Sometimes persistently and deliberately. Not good. As an ex-HRD I could dine out on the stories about employee behaviours, as could most HR professionals. There are issues to be addressed and this can, and does, include performance management or even disciplinary processes as required. But it also includes helping people change, supporting them to be the best version of themselves.
There is something about the categorisation of someone as toxic which is non-inclusive, seems to encourage a ‘pile-on’. It denies the option of improvement. It states “you are this” instead of “I notice this behaviour and I’d like to talk about it please’.
But is it just me? I notice a strong reaction in myself. That could say something about me of course. So I tweeted:
Is it me?
Or do you also struggle when people are referred to as #toxic? It feels like othering or labelling. People may well display poor behaviours, they may well need to find ways of improving, but is it simply writing off colleagues if we refer to them in this way? 🤔
— Tony Jackson (@JacksonT0ny) February 8, 2020
And had some illuminating replies from some of my Twitter pals including these:
Years ago I was taught something that has stayed with me. If you label a child as a ‘naughty child’ that is an identity label, which seems hard to change yet if it’s labelled as ‘naughty behaviour” it’s separate to identity & acknowledges change is possible
— Zoe Lewis (@coachzoelewis) February 9, 2020
It often makes me look closer / question the person doing the ‘calling out’ or labelling rather maybe what they are trying to get me to look at.
Happy Saturday to you Mr J! 🙂
— Fiona (@fionamcbride) February 8, 2020
Yes, it is, for me. I find the phrase ‘toxic bosses’ or ‘toxic coworkers’ lacking in compassion 😬
— Lorna Leeson (@reallornaleeson) February 8, 2020
So maybe it isn’t just me. There seem to be really good points here which are worthy of reflection.
And whilst we reflect, please can we all avoid referring to other human beings in such a dismissive way?