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Do you know how to own your own toxicity?

Can you see when your own toxic self is getting on others? We all have behaviors that are brought out when we’re stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, or even just hungry. And the same is true for our employees. But when does a toxic behavior become something that you address in a staff member? And how do you identify and control your own toxic behaviors before they start?

In this episode, we identify a few toxic behavior patterns that we have seen in a variety of situations to help you identify and address them in your own workplace.


M:  Hi Everyone I’m Michelle, owner of BadCat Digital.

J:   And I’m JoyGenea and I own Solutions by JoyGenea. Welcome to IF These Heels Could Talk.

M:  Today we’ll be talking in detail about identifying toxic behaviors and encouraging growth in your business.  We’re gonna focus on the growth part just so people don’t think we all of sudden got really pessimistic. 

J:  Oh, absolutely but we also want to point out that we’re not just going to be talking about that in your business, as in employees, we’re also going to be adding some conversation about clients. 

M:  Yes.

J:  Everybody can have a bad day.

M:  Yes.

J:   And we all, I think, have some toxic behavior living in there somewhere. 

M:  Absolutely.  And then also the last part of this conversation will be how do we make sure that you’re not part of the problem.  How do I make sure that I am not part of the problem?

J:  That your toxic behavior is in check. 

M:  Yeah, cuz we all have it.

J:   We all got it living in there.  There you go, we got the first point. You have to own the fact you got some.

M:  I do have some. I think there’s definitely some things that I do and there are definitely things I do, especially when I am stressed.  Especially when I am overworked or overwhelmed.  When I shut down in some ways or can’t finish sentences in others or I get overly emotional in negative ways.  There’s just definitely things in there that I consistently work on but being honest about those things is really part of the first part. 

J:  Yeah.  First get to know yourself.  That would be step one.

M:   Yes, what is that thing about glass houses and stones?

J:  And don’t throw them.

M:   Yeah that’s bad.  But that’s enough of that. We’re not here to tear ourselves down. 

J:  No. 

M:  No.

J:  Self-awareness is good though.

M:   It is good.

J:  And in business it’s important. 

M:  You can’t grow without it. 

J:  Right and your stuff is going to get on other people. 

M:  Oh totally.

J:   No matter what.  It’s a lot easier when you’re aware and you can apologize.  And this is one thing I have learned I will pass on no matter what.  There is never a wrong time to apologize.

M:   That is true.

J:   It is never too late to apologize.  You can be in mid-sentence, you do not need to finish that sentence.

M:  Right.

J:   You can stop in mid-sentence and go, “Wow.”

M:   And just stop and hear yourself and say…

J:  I’m sorry.

M:  I am not showing up.

J:  Yeah. Like I have to step away for a second.

M:  Give me a minute. I am sorry. 

J:  And the look on people’s faces is awesome when you do it.  Cuz they know you’re headed down this road and all of sudden you stop and they’re like, wait wait I wanted to see!  Like you were crashing and burning.  Like I was watching.  No, I’m going to take the whole rack and we’re just going to a tow truck is taking us off stage and we will get this figured out. That did not happen right away.

M:  No.

J:  But as that’s come along in life, that’s been kind of a nice thing.  But teaching other people that and having the trust and confidence in your business and in your staff and helping to grow that within your staff. That falls under a leadership umbrella.

M:   Absolutely. 

J:  That’s a different thing.

M:   And I think part of the first step is to recognize that when we’re talking about toxic behavior in the work place and life and any place. We’re talking about behavior, not people.  We’re not writing off people. We’re not saying this person is toxic and therefore doesn’t belong here, here, or here. We’re saying this behavior is something that I don’t want here or doesn’t fit into the culture of this business or isn’t productive for this business or helpful moving forward. How do we correct this single behavior? So part of leadership then is creating that awareness in somebody else if they don’t have the capacity for it themselves. 

J:  Yeah.

M:  And so once, a lot of times, once it’s addressed in a constructive way, it’s dealt with. 

J:  Oh absolutely. And once people find their own, in coaching it’s always about helping people find their own solutions. So, you might have 10 ways to think to fix this.  And trust me you just need to do this but that might not be the right shirt for that person.

M:  Right.

J:   Having those conversations and being able to coach them into finding their right solution because then they own it.  Not just do they own it, but they want to succeed.

M: Well and a lot of times I hear this from other business owners, especially of a certain age, about those who are younger.  I hear a lot of conversation about how the younger generation just doesn’t want to work, or slacks off, or this or that or the other thing.  I am not saying that there’s not believability in that and I am not saying they’re experience has some validity.  Every generation has said that about the generation after.  Like let’s just remember that. The other thing is, is that the person or is that a behavior and why is the behavior manifesting itself?  Is the person bored?  Do they not have as much responsibility as they think they should?  Do they have too much or too little for you?  Too much structure or too little structure and so you kind of have to look at it from the leadership role and say ok well I can either keep this framed exactly how I want it and then just go through people right left and center until I find somebody willing to do exactly what I want them to do exactly how and when I want them to do it. Or could I maybe take a look at my expectations of what I set up and work with that other person to create something that’s going to work for both of us. 

J:  Right and if that doesn’t require a complete revamp of the environment, that’s a possibility.

M:   It absolutely is and it’s something that I just don’t think a lot of people had expected of their employers in the past. The past model or the thing that we’ve been taught is the direction really hasn’t existed for a very long time where you go to school or you get out of high school and get a job and work there for 45 years and then you retire with a gold watch and a pension and it’s, you know you move up in the organization and you know by the time you’re 50, you’re management and your kids are in private school like it’s just gone.

J:   It’s not gone though.  I will challenge that a little bit only in the fact that I think it still lives and thrives quite well in government.

M:  I think you’re absolutely right.  It does thrive in government.

J:   And I have encouraged friends and so forth that when that is what they are creating and that is what they need in their job and so forth.  You just have to think public sector and you need to decide which branch. 

M:  That’s a really good point.  I wonder if that’s what keeps this myth. That’s how business works, it’s a lie because it does exist in the public sector. 

J:  It does.  It definitely does in that public sector but in that private sector we aren’t living in their anymore. 

M:  No.

J:   Those days are gone. 

M:  It’s a long time.  It feels like just 5 years ago that it stopped happening.  I mean this stopped happening with my parents. 

J:  Well and the interesting thing about that being changed is the fact like I was definitely part of the generation that was coming right behind it and so they’re talking to us as though this is a reality and we’re looking around going like we can do an assessment of this situation.  This is not the reality. 

M:  This is not happening anymore

J:  And it was actually super. It was very confusing.  I remember being in my twenties and they talked about things in terms of, you know, pension plans and decades and I’m looking at them most of these people have been here about 5 months and I’m watching them drop like flies in like…

M: A year.

J:   Right and so I’m not, I’m pretty sure you’re not clear on the big picture here.  It’s been interesting to watch that evolve.  For our generation to be clearer on the fact that yeah that’s not there. 

M:  Well and the other thing that’s happening is that work has kind of invaded our free time because even when we work for somebody else and you don’t have a business, cuz if you have a business you have no free time, but I mean that’s what you sign up for and people don’t tell you that in advance so there’s that.

J:   Even if they did you wouldn’t believe them. 

M:  No, you wouldn’t believe them and not in the way not in a real way.  But work has invaded our free time in a really real way and that’s because a lot of people work on their devices, so a lot of people’s personal devices, they work on them with them. They’re connected all the time. They’re on email all the time.  They’re available by phone all of the time.  They are available to their clients, sometimes all of the time, and they’re expected to be and so the trade-off for that as a business that we get is that we need to be more concerned about our employees’ work-life balance.  We need to be more concerned about how we train and how those toxic behaviors show up in different ways because when people are stressed, when people are under anxiety when people are overwhelmed, when they don’t have balance in their life, that’s when these things just blow up. 

J:  Right what you’re seeing and receiving is probably a result of.  And you do need to and you do if you can take a deep breath as a manager and small business owner you do.  You step back and you’re like ok what do I know that’s going on in this person’s life.  How much breathing room do I need to give them?  How can I support them?  Or how can I just help them just, you know.

M:   Or how can I wake them up.  Like what is it that I can do that says this might be happening out there but it’s inappropriate for you to bring it here.

J:  Yeah.

M:   And so how do we create that balance and create the sense of, maintain a sense of compassion and empathy but not get run over.

J:   We still have a business to run.  We still have clients that have expectations. 

M:  And we have other staff.  When things aren’t happening, it’s not always just you and the person you are talking to. This isn’t a friend situation.

J:  And that leads to the other like this is a team environment. Like small business is a team environment.

M:   And a really intense one. 

J:  Yeah if you have 10 or less employees, it is.  It’s a community.  Its it’s own living breathing organism and you do have to be aware of it and so when you start to have some of those toxic behaviors like…

M:  The slacker. 

J:  You know that employee that’s just somehow not there when you’re assigning tasks. 

M:  Yeah.  The one that just doesn’t… somehow is just gone all the time or like the minute or maybe you in the office cuz, I’m not in the office very much, so I usually like assign the tasks and then I go for awhile and then I come back and check in, because I am working actively with clients so I have you know 5 staff people or so sitting around waiting for things to do, so I tell them what to do.  I leave.  But somehow there’s that one person who sometimes misses that meeting or didn’t see the email.  But you know what’s really interesting is that person is so creative in their evasion. 

J:  Oh phenomenal.

M:   And if you could.  And kind of manipulative of their teammates because you have to have a lot of charisma to cover your butt consistently.

J:  Oh yeah.

M:    Especially in a small team, you can see who is not working if you’re paying any sort of attention at all and so the question becomes how can you take that creativity and that charisma and turn it into something different.  How do you identify that to that person and say I see this? The other thing that is a challenge here for us is the whole Midwest passive-aggressive thing. 

J:  Yeah.

M:  The Minnesota nice thing because you have to be able say I see you.  I see this.  You think you’re being cute and clever.  You think I didn’t notice but I see this and this is the burden it puts on the teammates so how do we take this behavior and turn it into something else?  And if you choose not to do that then you can’t stay.

J:  Yeah.

M:   But if I just fire somebody for slacking off they don’t get the benefit of any of that. 

J: Right.  And you might have lost a really good employee that’s just not in the right seat. 

M:  Or in the right space or frame of mind or in the right anything and so what if you just get rid of them? What are you teaching the other people on your team?  That if they screw up once or twice or you know they don’t necessarily have the same big picture of me as you do of somebody’s pattern of behaviors, so what are you telling them?  You’re telling them that there’s no room for error. There’s no room for mistakes. 

J:  Remember small community.  Small community creates big ripples.  M:  It’s just like a small pond with a rock, a small rock can make big ripples in a tiny little pond.

J:  Yeah.  And people fill in the gaps.  That’s the most important thing.  I am always reminding clients and so forth what you don’t tell people but they’re asking questions about, they will answer on their own.  You have no control of that conversation and so just own it and be in front of it. Be part of the conversation but if you leave big gaps, the mind fills it in for you.

M:   Absolutely and not in ways that you want.  Because they have less information than you.

J:   Right and they don’t need all of the information. They need enough to know that they’re not next. 

M:  Well and they need enough to know. They need enough to trust you and the decisions that you’ve made.

J:   Nice. Trust. 

M:  Yeah.

J:  We’re back on trust. 

M:  We’re back at trust.  So, what are some other toxic behaviors that you have seen? 

J:  I love a person to pent up their feelings. 

M:  The whole K & O. 

J:  That one’s come across a few times.  And even some clients.  I am not even fully aware of how they’re feeling. 

M:  Because we test the Minnesota nice thing. 

J:  And we’re texting and we’re emailing but we haven’t had a conversation and all of a sudden I get the long…

M:  Rant. 

J:  I’m like oh.  One time I didn’t even read the rant, like I started to read and went oh. I just texted them I’m like can we have a conversation.  I’m not even gonna read this email.  I’m like cuz you need to be heard. 

M:  Right.

J:  And I said I can’t hear your voice and I can’t truly hear you. Okay fine I can talk at 10. 

M:  Ok.

J:   And just hearing him, we got really clear on there was some major delays in his office getting me information.

M:  Right.

J:    And that was really frustrating for him and his staff decided that I…  M:  Right they were using you.

J:   As a subcontractor, it’s really easy for people to do that. 

M:  Totally. 

J:  Cuz you’re not part of the team.

M:  You’re not part of the team.  They’re gonna protect each other.  They’re not gonna protect you.

J:  So they were like we’ve sent it to her but she… And I said if you would like, I took a screen shot of all the emails I had received and the dates were right on them and he’s like thanks that’s exactly what I needed.  He was like I’ll have those he had within his organization breakdowns. 

M:  Right.

J:  That now he could go back.  He had some slackers. 

M:  They had some slackers.

J:  Yup, he had some slackers.

M:   Because part of the slacking behavior is the lie. 

J:  Right. 

M:  The lie is part of the behavior.  The active misdirection.

J:   And once we got on the page that, hey we were two business owners just like doing our thing and I could help him continue this project and get it back on track and time worth.  I was like oh we’re a team again.  It was great.  But boy when that first email came in, I’m like oh we’re erupting and we need to be heard.

M:   Well and a lot of people identify the volcano with anger, not a lot of people identify the volcano with tears.  And I think the tears are a thing too.  Frustration.  When somebody lets it just completely overwhelm them, when somebody, you know, when somebody maybe takes on too much.  I mean the volcano and the martyr are kind of tied together. 

J:  Yeah.

M:  You know the martyr, the one who says yeah I can do it, yeah I can do it, yeah I can do it.  I got this, I got this, I got this.  Oh, I can do that. I’ll take care of it and they volunteer for everything and they take on everything and they plan all the company outings or they plan all of the potlucks or whatever, like they do it all.  You have to watch out for that person too because they’re going to burn out fast.

J:  Yeah, and they might not know why. 

M:  Right.

J:   And as leadership you can kind of see that and be like ah.

M:   And it’s tempting to take advantage of it. 

J:  Yeah.

M:   Because it’s not often that you get somebody who volunteers to do everything and take it off your plate. 

J:  Yeah but typically and usually they can’t quite meet all the expectations so you catch it pretty quick.

M:   Yeah. 

J:  You’re like oh, oh, oh, we have a volunteer.  We’ve been over volunteered.

M:  Like an over volunteer-er.  But if you are not watching out for it and you’re taking advantage of it then what you do is you criticize them for not doing it well.

J:  Yeah.

M:  Instead of addressing the core behavior which is that they’ve taken on too much and they’ve done it voluntarily.

J:   Right.

M:   They don’t necessarily think of it as voluntary.  And that’s kind of the difference.

J:   Having the volcano within your community if that erupts when you’re not around.

M:   Oh my gosh.

J:   It’s not pretty.

M:   It’s really unpretty.

J:   It takes your community down a few notches. 

M:  Well and other people then can start to see you as the person who has caused that. 

J:  Yes.

M:  Both of those.  People start to see you as a person who has caused that person’s anxiety or anguish which then erodes trust, again.  It’s all about that trust. 

J:  It is.

M:  So what is it that we can do.  I mean I really see a volcano as somebody who is incredibly passionate. 

J: Yeah. 

M:  And really, really, really cares. 

J:  Yes. 

M:  They’re team and doing well and that compassion and that passion just can really be redirected. 

J:  Yeah. 

M: Actively. 

J:  Yup and starting to learn the signs.

M:  Yeah.

J:   Oh, I’m not sure why but that definitely looks like that’s getting a little overwhelmed over there.  And that can go and you know like we’re either going to cry or gonna explode.

M: Oh, so and so’s sniffling at her desk again or you know well he’s kinda cooking cuz he counts to ten whenever I talk to him. 

J:  You get the grinding teeth.  Those little things.  Short emails.  Two words. Got it. Those are hints.

M:   Yeah, they’re all hints.  And in clients I think part of the hint is the shutting down.  You know a lot of, we’re in marketing, and so a lot of our clients will get like the automatic calls from places or the offer of a free audit from places and they’ll come in their email. I always take it as a sign that a client isn’t necessarily as pleased as they could be.  When they actively ask me questions about and to pursue the lines that I mean if they’re happy with the service that I’m providing they just ignore that crap. Cuz they know it’s crap.  We’ve talked about it, they know it’s crap but if they’re not happy then their emailing the audit to us. 

J:  It’s the trust thing again.

M:  Yeah. 

J:  It tells us that they’re questioning and some clients will always question. 

M:  Yes. 

J:  Like I’ve had a few. They’re always going to question so when I get clear about that then I’m like oh no, no. They’re like is this a thing. Nope.  No. 

M:  Well and then part of the secret with this particular behavior pattern is to never be defensive.

J:  Oh, good one

M:  You have to.

J:   It’s not personal. 

M:  It’s not personal.  You have to de-escalate it.  It’s not about me.  It’s not about our work.  It’s not about any of that.  It’s about their ability to understand what we’ve done.  And so maybe then it is about my ability to communicate what we’ve done.  But it’s not personal and you can’t react defensively because when you’re talking to somebody who is aggressing or actively stewing being defensive will just light that fire. 

J:  Yeah.  But, again, check in with yourself. 

M:  Check in with yourself. 

J:  This is another thing. So we got our varieties going on here but another one is that in my days it was kinda called Negative Nancy or Debbie Downer or Doubting Thomas.

M:  I was gonna say – let’s add a man in there.

J:   It’s that pessimist.

M:  The one who just pulls everybody down all the time.

J:   Oh we’re supposed to do this but it’s not gonna work.  It will never be right.

M:   It will never be right but you know she wants us to do it so wahwahwah.  Yeah.

J:  What I have learned over the years is that pessimism is a valuable tool.

M:  It is.

J:   To a point.  And there’s when your entire outlook is that it becomes overwhelming to a team.  If you can sometimes see where things might go wrong and have a way of communicating it part of the time and being willing to know that sometimes this might work out.  That I’ve seen pessimists work in that manner where they work well in the community where they can watch for a little while and then they’ll just be like ok I could really see this going bad.  Oh, none of us thought of this at all. 

M:  But that’s how you turn the behavior around.  You listen to the need of what somebody is saying and you address their concerns in advance or in the moment instead of meeting it with this unbridled optimism. That just shows that you have no basis in reality to somebody who’s a pessimist. 

J:  Right. And that scares them.  I’ve learned that if you’re just far too optimistic all the time pessimists are like… 

M:  Are you on lithium?

J:   It erodes the trust.

M: Right.

J:  Because they’re like how come my reality looks like this and yours looks like that and I’m not sure which one of us is right.  I’m gonna go with the one I know.  Me. So you’re out. 

M:  You know I always kind of equate this with Eeyore.

J:  Yeah.

M:  And one of my favorite things about, as an adult it wasn’t as a child I would of never been able to articulate this so I’m not gonna ,but one of my favorite things about Winnie the Pooh and the stories is that Eeyore is just Eeyore.  People don’t try to get him to think about things differently.  People don’t try to tell him that he’s dragging down everybody. People don’t address it that way.  They listen to him, they invite him along, and he’s Eeyore.  He’s there.

J:   He’s just part of the gang.

M:  He’s just part of the gang and they accept him as he is. I think that one of the opportunities that you have as a leader is to help the team understand that more than one perspective is good. That it’s good to have somebody at the table who can foresee challenges that our projects are going to face and then your opportunity with that person who is having those pessimistic behaviors is to say alright let’s talk about when we voice these and when we don’t.  Because nobody.  I’m not going to try and please somebody’s thoughts.

J:  No.

M:   When is this helpful?  And when is it not helpful.  What’s that line?  I mean it’s learning a risk benefit analysis. If you can teach a pessimist a SWOT they will become the most valuable member of your team.

J:  Yeah.

M:  If they can actually achieve that to the point where if you bring something to the table, they can say Ok let’s deal with this this and this before we start and then after we start let’s watch for this this and this. Bam.

J:  That’s amazing.

M:  You have really turned that into something that you can use.

J:  All of these are assets on your team.

M:  Yeah.

J: But understanding them and helping them to not become toxic. That’s because too much of anything…

M:  It’s taking that toxic behavior and instead of seeing a toxic person, seeing that behavior and using the behavior for something that’s better.

J:  Yes.

M: That will actually help you.

J:  Exactly.  Well then let’s not forget the bully because community is community. That is always part of community.  It’s always the possibility that somebody just is aggressive.  I think it’s more than just the volcano, they’re just kind of aggressive towards others.  People in the community.

M:  Oh, this is the one I struggle with the most.

J: I bully clients.

M:  I have to and it’s really, really difficult. It’s really difficult to handle emotionally because it kind of takes you… especially if you were bullied as a child. There’s some triggering of some situations in your mind and it challenges some emotional stability.  This is one I really struggle with from a how-to handle this behavior. Do you have any – like I don’t know how to take that bully mentality and you know in my world it also kind of extends into the online troll.  How do you take that mentality and turn it into something useful?

J:  Typically, in my experience when I have been bullied or when people been that kind of aggressive it stems out of some place I can’t fix.

M:  Ah yeah, it’s a deep insecurity.

J:  Yeah, it’s things that went on before I got here…

M: Right.

J: …and are far deeper and so one time I actually flat out confronted him. I was like listen you had, I call it PTSD, I’ve labeled it – TM it! – and I am just like you have web PTSD.  I am really, really sorry that the last person you worked with you know in digital marketing did these things.  They really did these things. And I just let it.  He cried. He cried, he got angry. He let him get all of it out and I’m like and I am not that person.

M: Right.

J:  So, I’m like you want to move forward with this project and so forth you can’t treat me…

M: This way.

J: And it’s not who you are.  But somebody took away your trust and so now you aren’t able to trust me. And you have got to decide if you want to have that back and so you know these things don’t happen and if I see them I’ll just kind of point it out to you. That was one circumstance where he was able to work at that and there were a couple times that he texted me things that I’m like, listen we’re gonna pretend you didn’t just text me that. And he was like you know I could tell just that alone, he checked it and went oh, oh, ok, ok …. So there’s and ask in here.  You’re asking me for something. But it still was really –  I was on high alert.  Is how I would put that.  My defensiveness were really open, it was really hard to not try and defend myself or to just cower.  I was really surprised at how I would back down at times.

M:  Yeah.

J:  And one thing I kind of learned with him is I got to reach out or communicate the next day.  Like in the moment I might have cowered or backed down the next – I would choose the next day to say you know what in that conversation do I need to touch base on? This portion of this conversation, you said this and I agreed to that, and actually that’s not what’s going to happen. 

M:  Yeah.

J:  And I just needed to be that clear about it. Like that’s not what’s going to happen.  Are we clear on that moving forward or not?  I think with the bully employee, an opportunity for them to become aware of that and to adjust that and recognize that’s how they communicate.  I had a friend who grew up in a family, he was a middle child – there were 8 boys total.

M:  Wow.

J: That’s bullying that I had never seen.  To be around.

M:  He’s been taught that from a very young age.

J: So super normal. So, when he got into an informant situation guess how he behaved.

M:  Yeah.

J:  Like there was all this joking and hitting and stuff.  And they pulled him aside and they were like –

M:  You can’t do this.

J:  Right and ok listen.  This is the environment but this isn’t your family.  Like that’s your family and that’s how that works. I said you now need to learn this outside of your family. Works and operates and it was a little challenging for a while for him.  He didn’t see any of it as bullying.  If somebody makes a mistake you pick on them forever.  And I’m like no that’s bullying.  I’m bullying?  Yeah.

M: Yes.

J:  Yes. You know people make mistakes, they feel bad, I’m like you have to look at their faces their body language sinks a little.  You never bring it up again.

M:  Yeah just walk away.  They already feel it.  You don’t need to make it worse.

J:  Your brain can be like after 10, you hit your dose.

M:  Yes, you do.

J:  That never needs to come out of your mouth again.  You know but he just didn’t want to be sandwiched like that.  He learned how to take it, he learned how to dish it out. 

M:  It was how you communicated.

J:  It was.  And he just didn’t know.

M: You know, so, I think we kind of identified like it when it comes from two different places. You’re looking at the behavior and if you have a bully and a martyr on your team together. 

J: You better separate fast.

M:  A recipe for disaster. But really looking at the behavior then and saying to yourself – where is this stemming from?  How do I address this head on? Again it comes out in clear communication and trust. 

J: Yeah.

M: Right.  I’m not going to trust somebody who’s hurt me.

J:  No.

M: Actively.  And so I can mentally and intellectually find a place of understanding that it comes from insecurity or understanding that comes from but it still hurts.

J:  Yes.

M:  The behavior still hurts and separating the hurt from what’s going to be constructive or destructive for my business is really important and I think that only comes from time.

J:  Yeah.  Honestly, I think there are sometimes that a more aggressive personality on a team can be harnessed and be helpful.  Like his joking around stuff when it got my friends. When it got massaged a little bit and coached in a different direction, he’s great team leader.  He’s a great manager.  He gets the whole team going.

M: Because the opposite of bully or that you take that behavior of bully and if you turn it toward a different direction it becomes a protection.  And so you know that’s a nice person to have on your team. That’s a good person to have on your team. Is to have somebody who’s got everybody’s back.  And instead of actively aggressing against people you are aggressive from the team out.  It seems like that would be destructive in a world, but it is actually not because it can make your team much more close knit.  Ok thank you for helping me with the bully.  I have one particular one that is that is a real challenge for me and it’s not something a lot of people talk about. I call it the pot stirrer and that would be the person who has a complaint or challenge, whether its personal or at work, and talks to other people about it.

J: So it’s the water cooler talk.

M:  It’s the water cooler talk right. Everybody has little complaints.  It’s too hot out or whatever, but in this particular instance the pot stirrer turns it’s too hot out into somebody else going to management and saying why isn’t the air conditioner as high as it should be. Unbelievable, this manipulative skill.

J:  Yes.

M: And so if you’re not paying attention as a leader you turn on the person who came to you, not understanding that there’s a root person back in the office who is gleefully chuckling and being like I’m getting all my complaints but it’s never something. So, it’s like they’re hiding behind everybody else.

J:  Yeah.

M:  Well they’re creating discontent and that is a really, really hard person to sus out.  But the thing about that pot stirrer is they have a lot of charisma. They have the ability to, in conversation, manipulate somebody.

J:  Oh yeah.

M: Absolutely. Which is leadership.

J:  Oh huge.

M: So if you can find that.

J:  Your idea is somebody else’s idea.

M: Right.

J: Yeah.

M:  To be the neck that turns the head.  I mean if you can figure out that that’s what’s happening, if you can find that person, identify them, and redirect that energy you’ve got a leader on your team ready to go.

J:  Yep.

M:  But man is it a challenge to figure out who it is.

J: It is.  It definitely is because you think you’re putting out these little fires.

M: These little fires.

J: These little things just keep popping up.

M:  And you don’t realize there is somebody behind you setting them.

J:  Right.  No no no no.  You got your little fire starter back there.

M:  Yeah.

J:  It can also manifest even in clients. When you working with, I have, what comes to mind most often for me, is dealing with non-profits.

M: Yes.

J:  If you do not have.  I’ve learned – we’ve learned this.  We’ve talked about it before, if you’re working with non-profits or boards or any large group of people in marketing you get them to make a committee and the committee is less than 3 people.

M: Yes.

J: And from then on, all of your direction comes from those people and that’s it.  But that is where I have seen that pot stirrer situation is on boards when I’ve been trying to work with them and there’s maybe 8 people giving me information and so then somebody will delegate something over to me I will start doing it and then the person who stirred the pot and started it will be, well that’s not right.

M:  Right.

J:  They’re literally utilizing what I’m doing to push other people to look bad or to…

M:  Yeah.

J:  They’ve got agendas.  And boy figuring that out took time.

M:  You know one of the red flags in large group meetings setting like that for me is when somebody who isn’t the chair, who isn’t running the meeting, is barely paying attention and then kind of perks up at a particular moment and turns and says Karen you and I were talking about that, did you have something to say about that.  Like they’ll actively promps somebody in the meeting.

J:  Perfect.  Yeah, we’ve all seen it

M:  We’ve all seen it.  And all of a sudden you know that Julie or whoever said it. By the way if your name is Karen or Julie this is not personal.

J: Yeah.

M:  But Julie or whoever said it – we know that it’s really her issue.  Yeah.  Happens a lot. 

J:  Yeah. 

M:  Happens a lot.

J:  Yeah.

M:  And its usually somebody in a support or midlevel role who doesn’t feel heard, who doesn’t feel that he or she has a whole lot of power to say something, but really wants to get it out there anyway.

J:  Or maybe has an agenda to do that.

M:  That’s an agenda.

J:  Has an agenda but isn’t even aware. What I’m finding out is people are not always aware of what they’re striving for.

M: That’s true.

J:  What they’re agenda is. Or how they how they do those things.  Like they’re not aware that they don’t have a voice.

M: Right.

J: They’re frustrated. What I find when I get into go to with them or having deeper conversation is they are frustrated about not being heard and when I am able to communicate with them that you just need to open your mouth and say what you are thinking.

M: Right.  It’s really in being more straight forward than this.

J:  Right, like you’re gonna need to be vulnerable.  People might not like you.

M:  Yeah.

J:  And that just what I find with pot stirrers is they don’t want to not be liked.

M:  Yeah.

J:  So by sending everyone else in and they get not liked, that’s ok.

M: Right,

J:  But you know it can’t be me.

M: Right.  It can’t come back to me

J: Right,

M:  It reminds me of you know how you have that one friend who will never pick a restaurant.

J:  Yeah.

M:  Yeah and that’s I think part of that is because that way if the restaurant’s bad, it’s not their fault.

J: Right.

M:  Yeah. So the one friend who will never pick anything, no clarity statements at all. We all know that friend.  I think that’s the pot stirrer kind of behavior and so what you’re looking for with this behavior is somebody who, or a behavior that, creates discontent and dissonance among the rest of the team.  So you’re kind of looking for, especially on a small team, you’re kind of looking for the person that never complains to you.

J:  Yup

M:  Because all of the complaints.  People complain. People whine. It happens.  I do it.   It happens all the time.

J:  I used to get a phone call and like they would ask me, are you ready to go out and plow snow, it was 2 in the morning.  It’s a snowstorm.  And I would tell him the same thing every time. No.  And he goes well I need you to come to work.  I said nobody said I wasn’t coming to work you just asked me a question at 2 am that of course… I couldn’t help but be honest he goes next and he was honest with me he goes I need you to just say yes.  And I’m like I can do that.

M:  Yeah but that’s I mean, whining and you kids who win the games which I’ve always really loved.  Cuz I love that hard G sound makes it yeah.  I like that.  But it’s a natural thing. And passing complaints are just gonna happen.  Um so who’s not complaining. That would be where you find that person.  Who’s not coming to you with, it’s too hot, it’s too cold, it’s too this. Who’s not allowing themselves to say anything negative in front of you. Because that’s your problem.

J: Cuz everybody’s gonna hammer these guys.

M: Everybody.

J:  Everybody gets handed something and they’re like ugh come on. 

M:  Like it’s soooo Monday.  It doesn’t mean somebody doesn’t want to be there, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to work it just means its Monday.  Or it could be a Thursday Monday.  I’ve had those.

J:  I think helping a pot stirrer find their voice .

M:  Yes, and again that’s trust.

J:  As soon as they can express that and that they’re part of the community.  I do think that type of behavior leaves them just outside.

M: Right.

J: The environment.

M:  Right and that might be something again just like the bully that might be for reasons that are deeper and earlier and way bigger than us but there is the ability to call it out and say what about this situation has made it so that you can’t talk to me.

J:  Yeah.

M:  What about what I’m doing has created this anxiety for you? Why are we doing it this way? And again, just like all these other ones directly talking about the behavior again, not leading a person but directly talking about the behavior. This is unacceptable.  I’m not going to tell you that you can’t think what you want to think.  I am not going to tell you that you can’t always be one thing or another.  But what I am going to tell you is you’re not allowed to do this. So how do we redirect that?

J: And then see what they come up with.  I find people have amazing solutions.  I can’t even – you know. I was thinking over here and they come up with other stuff that I’m like that sounds like a really, really good solution.  People have the answers.

M:  Again, it’s that trust and direct communication. And I mean that’s gonna really take you far. 

J:  I know that’s what I want in a job environment, that’s the relationship I want to have with my clients. That’s the space I work to create.  I don’t win every day.  But that’s definitely that’s part I know that’s part of both of our missions and goal.

M:  I really want everybody who is in our space who works for me or works with me to be comfortable and confident and calm and centered with our work and you can only be that in place that you feel free to express yourself.  That you feel valued for who you are and one of the ways we that we do that is by addressing behaviors and not people.

J: And it can be done.

M:  It absolutely can be.

J: And that’s our encouragement. That’s my encouragement to everybody is just this – be aware.

M:  Yes.

J: Be aware, be observant, be proactive, but also enjoy it.  Laugh a little about it.

M: Yeah,

J:  And recognize that this just part of the character.  Like this is part of small business.

M:  It’s all part of small business.  Is there anything that isn’t part of small business?

J: Nope.

M:  Nope.

J:  Food.  Part of small business.  It’s all in there. But people are at the top of the list.

M: That’s for sure.

J:  It’s a people-oriented world, baby. And this is we are not public employees.  We are proud of it.

M:  We’re not and nobody’s perfect.  We’re not perfect. I’m not perfect.  Nobody is perfect.  And we all bring our own crap to the table so again back to that self-awareness from the beginning, like you have to call yourself out and if in those conversations because part of some of these behaviors and part of somebody defending themselves against what they might perceive as an attack when you call them out on something.  Is them coming back at you with, well you do this and you do this and you do that and owning that and saying yes, you’re right I do.  This is the way that I work on that and so I’m going to ask you for the same. Nobody is perfect and I am not expecting perfection. So let’s work on it.  I do expect progress.

J:  Progress not perfection.

M:  Progress not perfection. So to wrap up today, direct communication and leadership is about trust.  Teams are about trust.  Progress not perfection.  I think that’s what we’re saying.

J: That’s exactly what we’re saying. 

M:  And toxicity is a behavior not a person.  I think that’s really important.

J:  It’s super important.

M:  All right well that’s all for today’s episode of.. wow I can’t even say the name of the show without screwing up.  That’s all for today’s episode of If These Heels Could Talk. 

J: We hope that we have brought you some new ideas, encouraged you in some new direction ,and inspired you just a little bit.

M: Thanks for listening.