When you meet a person for the first time, you are seeing them at their best selves. So when I find someone hard to get along with or who displays behavior I can’t explain, I get away quickly.
In my 10-plus years of being a CEO, investor and founder, I’ve worked with thousands of people in business, and there are five types of toxic personalities I see over and over again.
To avoid working with these people as much as possible, watch for these signs:
They resent anyone who possesses skills they don’t have or who doesn’t feel the same self-loathing that they are plagued with. If you are thriving, they see it as their mission to bring you down.
How to handle them: Withholders take advantage of those who don’t speak up. Actively point out the strengths you each bring to the table. Demonstrate that, with your combined efforts, you can both achieve positive results.
It’s not always so brazen and extreme, but Hijackers are essentially Withholders with the added bonus of aggression. They want to trade on your vulnerability, take what you are great at, and claim it for themselves.
I’ve seen a lot of Hijackers in managerial roles. What they don’t understand is that to extract value from creatives, they must be empathetic to other people’s deficiencies — instead of trying to exploit them.
How to handle them: Own your achievements and demand credit when it’s due. Hijackers are less likely to bully someone who is assertive and who displays a strong sense of confidence.
Generally, good performers live in a place of gratitude. They don’t feel entitled to success, so they’re thrilled and thankful when it arrives.
But Victims live in a place of constant injustice. They see every bump in the road as confirmation that they are being unfairly targeted.
How to handle them: A Victim’s central argument might be that they are burdened with an undue workload. So raise your hand to volunteer, but know that your offer will likely be rejected. Going forward, remind them that you are willing to help, while also shouting out colleagues who are team players.
Martyrs are like victims who actually do the work, but they don’t do it well enough to justify the psychological drain they place on an organization.
They take on as much as they can handle—not to help the broader team, but to confirm the narrative they carry around about themselves as unjustly forced to take on the burdens of others.
How to handle them: Convince them that the greatest service they can do in pursuit of a cause is to delegate to people best suited to perform the individual tasks. Encourage them to redirect their energy into deploying others, instead of taking everything on themselves.
Gaslighters will spend their energy trying to rewrite reality, to the detriment of everyone around them. They often possess narcissistic traits.
They combine the qualities of Withholders, Hijackers, Victims and Martyrs all in one, attempting to convince people that they are not seeing what’s going on right in front of their eyes.
How to handle them: Put guardrails in place to keep them on track to deliver whatever value they can, and ignore the rest. If you don’t spend any energy engaging with their view of the world, the fire they’re trying to ignite will never take hold.
Matt Higgins is an investor and CEO of RSE Ventures. He began his career as the youngest press secretary in New York City history, where he helped manage the global press response during 9/11. Matt’s Book, “Burn the Boats: Toss Plan B Overboard and Unleash Your Full Potential,” is out now. Follow him on Twitter @mhiggins.
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