Thursday, May 10, 2012

Toxic people

Every church has them.  Every business has them.  Every one knows them.  Toxic people are everywhere.  You see them in churches sitting with their arms folded across their chest, their faces getting redder and redder every time certain people speak.  They have a reason to oppose every suggestion made regarding any change.  They gather people in the parking lot trying to recruit them to their side.  They manipulate and control, often behind the scenes.  Whenever possible, they prefer to do their work in the shadows.  Theirs is a whispering campaign filled with gossip and innuendo.  However, if you cross them they can turn into skunks spraying everyone and everything in sight.  When cornered they will threaten to leave, threaten to cause problems, threaten to withhold their giving, and in rare cases even threaten physical harm.

Toxic people exist in the workplace.  These are often passive-aggressive people.  They may agree in public to goals and strategies, but behind the scenes they work to prevent these things from happening.  They also use gossip to create turmoil in the workplace.  In his book, EntreLeadership, Dave Ramsey says he has zero tolerance for gossip in his business.  Gossiping can cost you your job in his company.  That's a good policy.

Many of us have toxic people in our circle of friendships.  These are people who try to pull you down to their level by encouraging you to indulge in their bad habits.  Many years ago when I became a Christian and stopped drinking alcohol I had to end some friendships with people who did not understand the change that had come into my life.  That doesn't mean that I don't associate with people who drink because I do, but at that time there were people in my life who kept trying to get me to return to their lifestyle.  I had to avoid them as they were toxic to my growth as a Christian.  Young people may develop a relationship with someone who encourages them to engage in immoral behavior and doesn't respect their decision to save themselves until marriage.  Those people are toxic and need to be avoided.  Other toxic people are those who do not appreciate your dreams.  Rather than encourage you in the goals you've set for your life they denigrate them and you in the process.  They tell you all the reasons why you can't succeed in life rather than applaud your dreams to accomplish more.  These are jealous, petty, insecure people who do not want to see anyone enjoy greater success and happiness than they have known.

What do we do with toxic people?  In the church the leaders must confront these people and let them know their behavior will no longer be tolerated.  One problem we have in too many churches is that we are filled with nice people who do not feel comfortable challenging the few who aren't so nice.  We give toxic people veto power over every decision that is made because we don't want to upset anyone.  These people wake up every morning upset, so nothing you do is going to upset them any more!   "But they might leave the church if we say anything to them?"  So're losing people anyway.  Good people aren't going to stay in a toxic situation so they are going to leave.  The question the leaders need to ask is who are they willing to give up.  The good folks or the ones spreading hate and discontent everywhere they go.  There came a time as a pastor when I decided I was done walking on egg shells around certain people.  They could either get on board with what the church wanted to do, or they could take their toxicity elsewhere.  (Being bivocational does make it much easier to make that decision!)

With double-digit unemployment there is no reason to keep toxic people in one's business.  There are millions of good people looking for a job with a good company.  You don't need drama in your business.  You need good team members who will be productive and make your business a pleasant place in which both to work and to do business with.  If I still owned a business and had a toxic person working there I would warn him/her once and the second time I would hire a replacement.  The unemployment line is a great place for toxic people to meet.  Getting rid of toxic people will do wonders for the productivity in any business.

Life is too short to spend with toxic friends.  People who do not respect your choices in life are not people you need to spend time with. They are not your friends.   Life is hard enough without having friends who try to keep us in the basement with them.  We need to surround ourselves with encouragers, people who believe in us and respect the choices we've made for our lives.  Occasionally, people with whom we've been friends suddenly become toxic.  When that happens I try to find out what's going on because there is often something happening in that person's life that has flipped that switch.  Friends don't abandon friends during such times without trying to understand what has changed in that person's life.  I can recall a couple of times in my own life when I became rather toxic, and I'm thankful for the ones who stayed with me and walked with me through that valley to a place of healing.  However, there are some people who will always be toxic and the sooner you distance yourself from them the better off you will be.

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