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How to spot a toxic personality with red and white spotted mushroom in background

How to Spot a Toxic Personality

How to spot a toxic personality: if you are building a business, the most important thing you have is your team. This gets said over and over again without being explored properly. Having the right people and the right culture is critical. As a business owner, it is your responsibility to make sure you are attracting good people. It is also your responsibility to make sure you are creating and maintaining a culture that allows them to work effectively, without the distraction of unnecessary workplace politics, manipulations or nastiness. 

The key is to hire balanced, mature people. Even more important is to ensure that you do not hire anyone who has a toxic personality. And even more important than that is that you remove from your team anyone who turns out to be a toxic personality. Skills can be taught, experience can be gained, but personalities and attitudes rarely change. 

A quick note: this is all predicated on the assumption that you are a well balanced, mature person! It assumes that you have worked hard to create a healthy working culture, and treat people with respect and dignity. If you are not, then you will almost never be able to create a healthy culture. If you are a business owner and find yourself in this category, then there is only one solution: you must hand over the responsibility and control of your culture and teambuilding to someone who is. And then let them get on with it, without interfering!

How to spot a toxic personality

toxic personality red flags

Toxic personalities are not well balanced. They need and consume huge amounts of attention from other team members. They need constant reassurance and affirmations. They will diminish others to make themselves feel taller. They will cause constant chaos to feed their own insecurities. If you find that your team are often talking about how to accommodate one particular person, at the expense of everyone else, that can be a warning sign. Other signs include: 

  • Causing lots of horizontal movement - political point scoring, disagreements, trying to make other people look bad
  • Going to senior managers to try and score points
  • Setting up scenarios and waiting for people to fail so they can run to a senior manager to 'snitch'
  • Sitting back, not taking any real responsibility but wanting lots of endless meetings to discuss insignificant matters - this makes them feel important without giving them any responsibility. Alternatively, they may need to be at the centre of everything, but in a way that controls rather than collaborates. 
  • Not relaying facts accurately
  • Not presenting logical, evidence based arguments 
  • Manipulating - telling half truths, lying, framing things in a manipulative manner, repeating things out of context in a way that gives them a warped meaning. 
  • Using other people as weapons: allying themselves with people with grooming behaviour and then manipulating them into being the mouthpiece or actor in their plot, so they can stay out of harms way
  • Treating other people badly and thinking nothing of it, but getting highly offended if someone does the same to them 
  • Gaslamping. This is a well established technique of manipulation and confusion. You tell someone that something that isn’t so, is so. For example, you tell them the lights are on when they are actually off. This seems like an implausible method that no one would believe. But it is actually one of the most effective, damaging and common methods of manipulation in existence. Time and time again it has been proven to be highly effective. If you spend a year telling the same lie over and over, eventually most people absorb it into their consciousness and end up believing it. A common workplace example of this is that the master manipulator singles out the most confident, balanced member of the team and sets out on a mission to frame that person as manipulative or controlling. They start to make comments like ‘well, it must have been very intimidating for you to have Sarah on the call’, and ‘because Sarah was on the call we didn’t really hear a balanced point of view’. The comments start small and then escalate over time as the lie becomes established. This technique takes most people by surprise and has a shockingly effective impact. It distorts truth and reality. Oftentimes, only someone who has been exposed to an abusive relationship or has studied psychology will spot the red flags. This is one of the most common tactics of manipulative, toxic personalities. If you think carefully about a difficult workplace environment you have worked in, you will almost certainly be able to identify a gaslamper. They use untruths and manipulative framing to invent and maintain a dishonest, warped narrative that is designed to further their own selfish needs at great cost to everyone else. Gaslamping is incredibly damaging. It affects peoples mental health. It causes trauma. It shakes peoples faith in the world we live in and destroys their ability to trust people.

gaslamping abuse tactic toxic personality

Remember - any method of abuse can be used in the workplace. Make sure you are aware of the red flags - warning signs.

Toxic people must be removed from your business or team. You have a moral obligation to your other employees to ensure that they have a safe, productive work environment where they can thrive. Make sure you do it legally, following all of the proper processes. Be fair and just and treat people with civility and respect at all times, even through performance or other disciplinary proceedings, but make sure you take the action needed to protect your team. Failing to move a toxic personality can result in bullying and harassment claims, and even lead to constructive dismissal scenarios. But more importantly, it will destroy your team’s motivation, commitment and mental health. 

Read more about how to create a healthy working culture in tech

At Volanto we are strategic growth consultants. We specialise in delivering digital transformation programmes and technological advancement. We have decades of experience building and managing teams, and even in house psychologists. If you feel your team dynamic could be improved, or would like to know more about how to spot a toxic personality, contact us


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