When Toxic People Invade Our Space

I got an interesting tidbit of news last week.

A colleague – Tanya – was booted from my book club.

If you’re wondering why I found this so…interesting…allow me to lay it on the line.

Truth is, Tanya and I don’t really get along.

We actually did like each other back in the beginning, when I was new on the scene and she reached out.

I really appreciated her at the time. She introduced me around, gave me pointers on the club. We even went out to lunch a few times, just the two of us.

But then…I began to notice something.

When those lunches were done, when the bill was paid and I was back in my car, I felt out of sorts.

No, I was more than out of sorts. I was actually a bit crabby. I was negative, less patient.

I didn’t handle the traffic well on the road nor handle the people well when I got to my next destination.

And then I recognized the pattern.

When she and I got together:

  • We complained a lot – about the club, the books assigned to us, how things were run
  • We talked about the other people in the group, wondered if they’d actually read the books
  • We were negative and skeptical, perhaps downright cynical, about life in general

And when it was all over, that negative energy…stuck.

Once I realized it, I became annoyed with myself. This wasn’t who I was…certainly wasn’t who I wanted to be. And so I made the decision.

I stopped hanging with her.

I was still part of the club and so was she. But I stopped sitting next to her. I stopped engaging her before and after the meeting. I never lunched with her again.

I paid attention to her comments, noticed her negative energy and how it impacted the group. Somehow I’d failed to notice it before.

If she wondered why I backed off, she didn’t ask. In this case I chose not to talk about it with her. It didn’t seem worth it. After all, we really hadn’t been that close.

(I will say that in similar circumstances, ones where I’ve felt closer to the person or been asked directly, I have had that conversation. You can get a sense of how I handle situations like this in my post: the thing that makes us squirm.)

The whole point is this. This situation with Tanya…had nothing to do with Tanya.

It was about me, about my negative behaviors. It was who I allowed myself to be when we were together. And it was about my happiness – or lack thereof – when we were done.

After all, I engaged in all of that negative talk. I gossiped. I whined every bit as much as she did.

Many of us are surrounded by negative people throughout our lives. These people choose to look at the worst in others, to predict the worst case scenario, to think they are victims of their circumstances.

They aren’t bad, but they do have a certain negative energy. And if we’re not careful, we can pick it up, ruining not just our own day, but the day of those around us.

Once we identify those in our personal and professional circles who are negative, perhaps downright toxic, the next thing to know is that we have a choice in how we deal with it.

In the end, it’s up to us.

  • In some cases, when the person is part of a larger or optional group, or who isn’t that relevant to our lives, we can cut them out. Like I did.
  • In others, when that person is a co-worker or a person we come across regularly, we can lessen our exposure. We can engage when necessary, but avoid the early talks in the break room or the gossipy phone calls on the way to work.
  • In still others, when that person is our boss or someone we must see all the time, it’s decidedly harder. We must be constantly, diligently aware of this dynamic, forcing ourselves to stay true to who we want to be.

We must force ourselves not to engage in gossip or complaints, even when we really want to. It takes energy and focus, but it can be done.

It’s not about anybody else. How we choose to act and behave, whether we gossip or whine, is all about us.

When it comes down to it, people don’t like being around negative, toxic individuals. That’s why, in the end, Tanya got booted from the club.

Turns out she complained about pretty much everyone. This included the president of the club, who also chose to cut out Tanya’s negative energy.

Only she got to do it by getting rid of Tanya altogether.

Had I let myself continue on my path, I could’ve been next. And I would’ve deserved it.

This week, pay attention to those in your life who are constantly negative or toxic, whose interactions cause you to be, too.

Pay attention to who is good for your energy, who leaves you feeling lighter in your step.

Then make your decisions.

Most of all, be aware that the most negative person in the room might just be you.

That’s when the test really begins. And your decisions are the most important of all.

Now, go do good…and do it well.

4 thoughts on “When Toxic People Invade Our Space

  1. Randal Schober says:

    Another great reminder and addresses a specific ongoing challenge for me ….. thanks!

  2. Jane Allman says:

    It’s always shocking to realize I’m the one who’s been negative. It’s hard to face that I sort of enjoy talking about others and laughing at people behind their backs. That’s not how I think of myself. Today I make a commitment to stop engaging in drama and gossip. Thanks for this motivation, Deirdre.

  3. Patty Costa says:

    Thanks Deirdre for calling it just what it is – Toxic! Sometimes I don’t realize I’m in it until I’m in it. In the last two weeks, I’ve had four people (yes four) complain and take on the role as victim. I have to avoid some contact or email them instead of phone them even though I really like two of them. But when I start getting a headache, I know I’m in over my head – no pun intended! It reminds me to be more aware of others in my conversations.

  4. Great post! A rising tide lifts all boats. When you raise your standards and declare to others you don’t tolerate gossip, watch how many people around you rise up with you! And good reminder, you can always drop those who don’t like an anchor!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *