Deal consistently with Toxic Behaviour

Copyright © 10/2023 ❘ The Enterneers®

Toxic behaviour is not an inborn defect. There are no genetically determined toxic people. However, people's behavioural patterns, habits, and actions can indeed have a toxic effect on others. We can unintentionally exhibit such behaviour. Therefore, we should be familiar with this issue, be able to recognise toxic behaviour when it arises and consistently deal with it.

The term ‘toxic behaviour’ has become established not only in business management but also in the media and public discourse. This term is used to describe the patterns of behaviour and social characteristics of people that have a damaging or destructive influence on other people or organisations. The emphasis here is on the malicious, dangerous, demoralising and harmful effect of certain behaviour patterns.

Since this behaviour always emanates from individuals, we tend to label them as toxic people. However, to approach this topic with due objectivity and tolerance, it is important to differentiate between individuals, their behaviour and the effect of their behaviour on others. To call another person toxic, i.e., poisonous, or malicious, just because they have an arrogant, discrediting and empathy-less manner about them is not correct. Nor is it very effective. In addition, one is not exempt from offending other people with one's own behavioural patterns and receiving little approval from others.

The fact is that such so-called toxic behaviour must neither be tolerated nor downplayed. From the company's point of view, it must be addressed decisively because the conflicts and disputes that arise from it often lead to a loss of performance and can impair the company's development. When people in the company must deal with toxic behaviour, it leads to concentration problems, demotivation, health problems, and in the last instance, to absenteeism or dismissal. It has been shown that, in companies that tolerate such phenomena, or, in the worst case, even encourage them, it is not only the people directly affected who suffer or drop out but also other people and groups indirectly involved. In the worst case, they seek an employment opportunity elsewhere.

This path of suffering, and the flight to other employment relationships, are often associated with emotional reactions, negative reviews and lasting damage to the reputation of the company as an employer. In no case does toxic behaviour lead to high performance, trust and commitment.


A culture is strong when people work with each other, for each other. A culture is weak when people work against each other, for themselves.


Simon Sinek


Toxic, in the heat of the moment, or just misunderstood? It is crucial to differentiate between toxic behaviour and unpleasant, stressful or conflict-laden situations with prospects for positive interaction. A key characteristic of toxic behaviour is its persistence and ruthlessness, as well as its ignorance of basic social or moral values. It can often be described in terms of lying, cheating, manipulating, scheming, insulting or belittling. Individuals exhibiting firmly anchored toxic behaviour patterns lack empathy, certain emotional and social competencies, and moral values. Therefore, they resort to immoral and destructive means without hesitation to further their personal interests or satisfy their egos.

Toxic behaviour can have different faces. Some frequently observed manifestations are briefly presented below.

People with toxic behaviour do not shy away from using lies and manipulation to achieve their goals or assert their opinions. They exploit other people's trust without shame, distort facts or simply withhold relevant information. They build up emotional pressure on others or induce false feelings of guilt. In addition, they spread rumours or intrigue to damage the image or self-confidence of others.


People with toxic behaviour have no regard for moral values or societal boundaries. They do not respect the choice and will of others, often becoming intrusive in their manner and behaviour. In the context of their actions, they refuse to acknowledge any wrongdoing on their part and always regard their own behaviour as appropriate. They remain unpersuaded even when presented with explanations or facts to the contrary!


If pure stubbornness and a lack of ability to compromise replace assertiveness and persistence, it can be indicative of toxic behaviour. In this setup, there is always only one correct solution for tasks and challenges, and that is the solution advocated by the person with toxic behaviour. When people persist in their points of view, they react sensitively to criticism. So open dialogue at eye level is hardly possible.


Toxic behaviour also arises when the self-esteem of other people is constantly undermined based on egocentrism. This involves blaming other people for mistakes, belittling their work or glorifying one's own achievements in a conspicuously inappropriate way. Persistent feelings of envy and resentment create conflict and foster mistrust.

Part of the management's responsibility is also to recognise and deal with toxic behaviour. If there are signs of such behaviour, they should be taken seriously and analysed immediately. Clear misconduct should always be addressed directly and without delay. Since people with toxic behaviour are likely to be unimpressed by such a response due to their personality makeup, and may not be capable of insight and concessions, a clear message should be sent when addressing them. Rather than focussing on convincing them to adopt the company's view, it is more effective to communicate directly and clearly that this behaviour is disturbing and will not be tolerated. Consequences should also be pointed out, especially in the case of repeated misconduct.

Presumably, even if the toxic behaviour is consistently pursued and addressed, only a few of the persons concerned will see a lasting change in their personality and behaviour. But the person concerned should also be given a second chance. Ultimately, in many cases, it will be to ensure that the individuals who persistently engage in toxic behaviour are removed from the organisation so as not to impair the success of the company and to maintain a healthy, efficient, committed organisation.


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