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We’ve all met them: they are the people who drain you of energy instead of enriching you, the people who pull you down instead of pushing you up, the people who require more then they can provide; the negative, wining, needy, manipulative people who can turn a happy day into a living hell.
I call them toxic people. One thing I notice is that no matter how good our people skills are in general, most of us have problems with dealing effectively with this kind of people. Even those with really sharp people skills often get caught up in the polluting relationships (personal or professional) toxic people create.
The good news is that there are effective ways to deal with toxic people. Working as a communication coach, I came to realize there are certain patterns of behavior and communication which work really well with this kind of persons. Here are the most significant of them:
1. Avoid toxic people
I believe the best way to deal with toxic people is to not deal with them at all; to avoid them. In some cases it may not be an option, but more often than not, it is. This is why I encourage you to really think about the options you truly have with every toxic person in your life.
It is common to think you have to deal with someone, when you actually do not. It is also common to believe you can get a toxic person to change while interacting with them. My experience is that unless you are a professional, you will not get them to change and trying it simply is not worth it.
2. Anticipate toxic people
It is harder than usual to get out of relationships with a toxic person. Toxic people tend to have this ability to make you feel bad for avoiding them and to attach to you like a leech. This is why it’s important to be able to spot them quickly, and start avoiding them before the relationship truly develops.
The best way I know to do this is to come up with a list of clues which you believe might indicate a toxic person. Then, every time you meet a person and a significant number of these clues are there, distance yourself from that person.
3. Set firm boundaries
Toxic people will often use you, one way or another. The may complain to you all the time while you listen hopelessly (?), or they may constantly get you to get them out of trouble. This is where boundaries come in. Boundaries are reflections of what you are and are not willing to do.
Setting firm boundaries means not allowing toxic people to use you in any of these ways. It means refusing to listen to them complain, refusing to get them out of trouble. When you have firm boundaries, there is basically nothing bad any person can do to you.
4. Get over your guilt
Most toxic people are very skilled at making others feel guilty when they don’t do what they want. This makes it particularly hard to set and maintain firm boundaries with them. But, there is a way out of this dilemma: getting rid of your guilt. It is your own guilt which toxic people use to break down your boundaries.
When you can set and maintain boundaries with them without feeling guilty, the weapon they have against you is gone. Realize that your guilt is irrational, pointless, and it is used against you by toxic people. This is the best way to get over it.
5. Do not defend yourself
When you avoid toxic people and you set boundaries with them, they frequently resort to accusing you, complaining and playing the victim in an attempt to get you to change your behavior.
One of the worst things you can do when this happens is to defend yourself. It is usually a futile action and it only keeps an immature dialog going which eventually helps the toxic person get what they want. You won’t get anywhere with them by defending yourself and your actions.
Unfortunately, toxic people are everywhere. And they tend to attach themselves to those persons who are kind and have the most to offer. When you have the people skills to deal effectively with toxic people, you have the option to respond to their attaching in the best ways for you.
As for helping toxic people change their ways, I encourage you to leave/pass this task to the professionals in this area.
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Image courtesy of Jesse Drapper