The Toxic Relationship and Workplace Checklist
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Any relationship has the potential to go sour. Whether it’s an intimate, friendship, family member relationship, professional or workplace relationship, relationships that held promise at the start can become annoying, then draining, then detrimental to your wellbeing.
This experience is what’s often referred to as a toxic relationship.
This is also the experience people have when they work in a toxic workplace. I’m not referring to a physical environment that is toxic. I’m referring to a relationship or workplace culture: the explicit and implicit rules, values, expectation, norms and behaviours that govern how individuals relate with one another in order to attain success. It’s the culture, often created by those at the top of a workplace hierarchy or co-created by two people who form a relationship, that can become toxic.
The foundation of a toxic relationship and workplace is DISTRUST. We generally don’t form new relationships with people we initially distrust. We form a relationship as a result of building rapport with the other and assessment of each other’s trustworthiness. The same principles that you might use to build any type of relationship with another apply in personal or professional contexts. Eventually you begin to trust the other person and that affects how much you give, share and open to the other.
When you experience something that disrupts your perception of the other person, and you’re unable to restore your original view of them that led you to trust them, this shift has an impact on their trustworthiness, whether you’re aware of it or not. If you have similar experiences enough times that cause you to doubt the intentions of the other person, you know they’ve lost your trust.
Trust is fundamental for building and sustaining healthy relationships where both parties feel safe to express themselves honestly and respectfully, and take risks without fear of retribution or retaliation. Mutual trust is relationships is accompanied by feeling secure, stable, at ease, respected and valued. You come away from encounters feeling secure in the relationship and uplifted even though you might have disagreed or experienced tension. When trust is experienced as a group, you have the foundations of psychological safety.
Relationships where those feelings are absent are likely to feel toxic over time. Toxic friendships, social groups (including family), professional relationships and workplace cultures feature specific attitudes, behaviours and practices.
Checklist: Toxic group/workplace practices
Distrust (ie. micromanaging)
Urgency and perfectionism
Low morale & venting
racist, misogynist and other discriminatory beliefs and language
Fear of disclosing psychological status to avoid being shamed
Lack of appropriate recognition of contributions/effort
Absent accountability and finger pointing
Resistance to new ideas/suggestions for improvement
Gossip, targeting others with criticism, rumours and two-faced behaviour
Rules/policies that are enforced unequally & inconsistently
Narcissistic Leadership (ie. a dominant friend/colleague)
Unclear expectations, lack of transparency & shifting goal posts
Compliance, sacrifice and service to the other person/work
Demand for excellence while being used/poor staffing for high workload
Your needs matter less/deliverables over wellbeing
People in toxic personal and professional group contexts exhibit survival mode behaviours. Survival mode behaviours occur when people in any context are in a chronic emotionally dysregulated state. You are emotionally dysregulated when you feel unsafe or perceive a threat to your comfort and security. When you zoom into what might be happening between individuals in these group contexts, these are the behaviours that you’ll see:
You might still need convincing as to whether you’re in a toxic relationship or group.
An additional option is to reflect on how you felt about yourself before you entered into the relationship/group/workplace to how you feel immediately after exposure to the person/group/context. A healthy relational or workplace environment will enable you to feel self-confident, secure, free to take risks and emotionally regulated.
Free subscribers can see a preview of this premium article. The rest of the article describes the psychological impacts of toxic workplaces & relationships, what NOT to do and what to do when you discover you’re in one. Upgrade now to access the full article.