I recently resigned from a job I loved. It was a tough move – there was so much happiness there. I went from someone figuring out life to someone who knew what they were doing within the three years I spent there – with a team that appreciated, celebrated and stood by me through it all. I didn’t really think I would leave as early as I did but I also can’t believe I stayed there that long.
Every workplace has problems. It can be workload, it can be processes, it can be pay. But sometimes, it can also be a person. In a department of 60+ amazing human beings that I loved working with, that one person had more effect on me than they should have. It all only started when they started.
After a year of everyone around me being jealous of the experiences I was having through my job, I had an experience nobody would want for themselves. A casual conversation used against me to keep me out of a project. Something I said I intend to do in the future was turned into “We never know how close the future is. She could leave tomorrow.” That should’ve been my red flag, but I didn’t pay too much attention to it.
In a flat working environment where my former manager is now one of my closest friends, they tried to set hierarchy. I was beneath them and they wanted me to know it. When something I did wasn’t working for them, there was never a conversation. I never received feedback on the 14 versions we worked on together where I tried to keep up with changes that were continuously presented on wrong drafts. I simply got removed from the project when they responded directly to the person on their same paygrade. It bothered me but I told myself, “One less thing on your to-do list. Focus on the rest.”
I should have seen how the small things were adding up. Not just in the real world but emotionally. How this person was making me feel with every decision they made against me. But that’s the thing – these things never capture our attention long enough for us to know. If only I’d known.
6 months since they started. That’s when I knew. The anxiety, the panic, the constant jitters on calls with them. But I’m not silent. I’ve never shied away from letting the world know how I feel. So, I spoke about it. I spoke to the people around me. I spoke to the ones who had power to make change. I spoke to colleagues who could sadly relate.
There were emails – words that person wrote to taunt others just so they wouldn’t get called out for their own flaws. There were phone calls – things that person said to put ‘people in their place’ so we wouldn’t tell that person how they were failing at their job. There was so much that so many people were going through together that we all spoke about.
So, I made a decision. I stopped talking. Instead, I observed. I went to meetings and said nothing. Watched everyone try and watched every reaction on that person’s face. I sent emails with different people on copy to learn when their tone changed. I learnt to work around them, never having to be in a call together, never having to talk to each other. It’s no way to work but it’s the only way I could.
For the first time in a really long time, my anxiety was tolerable. I wasn’t panicking every time I heard their name. My heart wasn’t in my mouth when they said my name. I was able to function because I taught myself how to manage them and when I couldn’t, I followed their tactics and asked to be removed from their projects. I was lucky enough to have a team that understood.
Not everyone does.
When you are a manager and your team member tells you someone’s rude, someone wasn’t nice or that someone was making them nervous – listen.
Don’t encourage them to have open conversations with that person. Toxic people are often narcissistic. They don’t like hearing how they aren’t doing something right. When you encourage a person affected by them to speak to them, you are encouraging someone who trusted you to walk into a war path where the other person will always hold more power.
Don’t tell your team that the toxic person is nice deep in their core. Don’t humanise their behaviour. Bullies with a million reasons are bullies still. If there’s a deep underlying cause, it is their responsibility to work on it. It’s not yours to tell them. It’s definitely not the victim’s.
I watched a toxic person rise through the ranks after we told people how they behaved. I watched them build a stronger army. I watched them fail at everything and get away with it every time. I watched them stay – no matter how badly we all threatened to leave.
I ultimately left for a very different reason but the day I left and realized there will never be another call, another look, another casual sentence thrown around to prove how low on the food chain I stood – I felt my shoulders relax, my heart stopped racing and I knew I’d done the right thing.
Not everyone can.