In his talk, Ten Things I Have Learned, Milton Glaser hands down a list of axioms he earned through an amazing, life-long career in design. I recently rediscovered this document after it sat in a folder marked “save” for a few years. Instead of leaving it there, I thought I’d share these “ten things” and add my own wooden nickel.
If Milton’s third axiom was an emoji it would be the Mr. Yuck sticker because there’s no symbol for the word toxic. “Nauseated Face” is the closest but that describes just one of several feelings or emotions that we suffer from having to deal with toxic people. Anger, disbelief, disappointment, and resentment are but a few responses to toxic people, but there is only one response to their behavior.
03/10 — Some people are toxic avoid them.
This is a subtext of number one. There was in the sixties a man named Fritz Perls who was a gestalt therapist. Gestalt therapy derives from art history, it proposes you must understand the ‘whole’ before you can understand the details. What you have to look at is the entire culture, the entire family and community and so on. Perls proposed that in all relationships people could be either toxic or nourishing towards one another. It is not necessarily true that the same person will be toxic or nourishing in every relationship, but the combination of any two people in a relationship produces toxic or nourishing consequences. and the important thing that I can tell you is that there is a test to determine whether someone is toxic or nourishing in your relationship with them. Here is the test: You have spent some time with this person, either you have a drink or go for dinner or you go to a ball game. It doesn’t matter very much but at the end of that time you observe whether you are more energized or less energized. Whether you are tired or whether you are exhilarated. if you are more tired then you have been poisoned. If you have more energy you have been nourished. The test is almost infallible and I suggest that you use it for the rest of your life.
I love Milton’s test, it’s simple and leaves little room for misinterpretation of the results. After suffering the company of several narcissists (from family to friends to co-workers) over the years I have zero patience and time for toxic relationships. And neither should you if you’re able.
In my coaching practice, the subject of a toxic employee comes up at least once per year. However, not every instance would have been so easily tested using Milton’s method due to a person’s lack of required interaction with co-workers spending the time instead on seeding gossip and spreading rumors. These are the subtle actions of a toxic person who has yet to be unmasked.
Anytime I sense a hint of toxicity when working with leaders my advice is always to get rid of that person immediately, without hesitation. Because like a poisonous cloud the toxicity expands and will negatively impact more and more people and eventually a company’s operations and capacity to function. I share this perspective confidently by scars I earned from doing what I could to avoid confronting toxic people which led to reduced morale, productivity, profitability, and eventually the loss of remarkable talent. Toxic people are devastating to culture.
You might be thinking, hey why not talk to them first and give them a chance to redeem themselves? And that’s what I used to think and tried a few times. Unfortunately, I don’t believe toxic people have the necessary self-awareness that can enable these people to turn themselves around. When trying to confront toxic people they are in a state of disbelief and project fault onto others or circumstances not under their control. I’ve seen it time and time and time again. The pattern is real.
So, I would add to Milton’s thought. Some people are toxic avoid and fire them immediately. Ain’t nobody have time that.