5 Toxic Behaviors & How to Unlearn Them

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toxic behaviors

You are not immune to toxic patterns because you are a leader. Toxic behaviors may have been tolerated, but they have no place in the future. Do you have any toxic leadership patterns? Sadly, some of us have become very comfortable with our toxic behavior because it fits and seems to work for us.


Unfortunately, toxic leadership can produce results, but so many negative consequences accompany it, such as low morale, struggles with talent retention, attraction, and innovation. Even if it isn’t your intention - the work environment around you feels like it’s covered in a black cloud and lacks any kind of vibrancy. Companies and team members cannot flourish when toxicity undermines the culture.


The good news is that toxic behavior can be unlearned. Thus, your workplace and personal life will experience a ‘new you.’ Trust me; I’ve been there. I have in the past ruled my team and fellow employees with toxic behaviors. So I am here to tell you that there is hope. Some patterns will be easier to unlearn than others. You may find that you give up a toxic behavior only to turn around and take it back. After all, it is a pattern that “worked,” and habits are hard to break. 


Once you are aware of your behavior, own it.  Accept that this is the old you, and you are ready to rid yourself of these habits so you can become a ‘new you.’ Pay attention to what triggers your behavior. Journaling is an excellent tool to note what you are discovering about yourself, observations of how you would like to act, and situations that provoke toxicity. Be sure to include your successes too.


Here are five common toxic behaviors and tips you can immediately begin using to unlearn toxic patterns:


1. Poor Listener


Some common patterns of a poor listener include someone who:

  • Talks more than they listen
  • Never allows others to speak or even get a word in
  • Constantly interrupts and attempts to complete other people's sentences
  • Has all the answers.

If you notice any of these patterns as you communicate with others, there is hope. You can unlearn this toxic behavior by:

  • Taking lots of notes in meetings
  • Bite your tongue when appropriate
  • Maintain eye contact while others are speaking
  • Pause and count to 3 before speaking
  • Ask questions and actively listen to the answers.

2. Inflexible


The traits of an inflexible leader can be reflected in behaviors such as:

  • "Do it my way" mentality
  • The need to control everything
  • Resistance to change
  • Micro-managing
  • Being unwilling to go against the status quo.

Inflexible people often are very resistant to change. This is attributed to the idea that the unknown is something to fear, that taking risks and trying something new may end badly. The foremost way to overcome inflexibility is to embrace change. Try new things, like food, music, and restaurants. Change your routine, try driving a new route to work, sit in a different chair or take a lunch break at a different time than you usually do. These small steps will help you open up. Lean into change, do not back away from it.


3. Overly Competitive


Competition offers a multitude of benefits to businesses. It ignites creativity and innovation. It can drive new products and services while improving the overall customer experience. A competitive spirit is a good thing, but you can have too much of a good thing if you are overly competitive. An overly competitive person needs to win no matter what the cost. They posses an innate desire to always be right. This type of behavior often carries into their personal life as well.


Unlearning overly competitiveness does not mean you must quell the desire to win, but rather reframe what winning means. Shift your competitiveness to your team winning, not an individual win. Reject the "I win" attitude and adopt a “we win” attitude. 


4. Self-Centered


English philosopher Thomas Hobbes argued that self-interest is the most fundamental human motivation. We can't help but have a tendency to put ourselves first-it is a human instinct. But for people that find it nearly impossible to focus on others, may struggle with self-centered behavior. Self-centered people make everything about them. They often bully and participate in negative gossip and manipulation. Self-centered people are ego-driven, have trouble admitting they are wrong, and give little to no recognition to fellow team members.


There are several simple ways to unlearn this toxic behavior:

  • Journal and reflection
  • Get feedback from your team-how have they been impacted by self-centered behavior
  • Think about how you would feel if your boss was self-centered
  • Do not join in when others display toxic behavior
  • Practice mindfulness

5. Insecure


Insecurity can stem from past trauma, fear, low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence, and/or feelings of inferiority. Insecure people often try to hide their insecurities by pointing out the flaws and mistakes of others and showing a false sense of security and pride. They often keep “yes” people around them to give them the reassurance and confidence they lack.   


In order to unlearn insecurity, you must develop an appreciation and acceptance of yourself. This can be accomplished by writing down four positive affirmations that describe your desired new behavior. Say these affirmations before you go to work, before bedtime, and anytime you feel uneasy. Tape your affirmations to your mirror or car visor to remind you. Daily affirmations can improve your self-esteem by releasing negative, fearful thoughts and replacing them with positive, helpful words. 


As you are on your journey to unlearn negative traits, make time to talk to your team. Be willing to apologize and admit that you have made mistakes, wipe the slate clean. Include your direct reports in your plan moving forward. Your findings will help create a renewed sense of teamwork and support.


Unlearning is a process. It takes initiative, courage, and the desire to change. Taking deep breaths, mediation, and pushing through the uncomfortable moments will help you through the unlearning process. Be honest with yourself and willing to improve your behavior - you are so worth it. 


Key Takeaways


As in any journey, be realistic and stay on course. Being mindful and practicing self-awareness will be your internal compass toward making positive changes. Now is the time for you to live your best life, and become heart-centered and happy. 


If you or your organization is suffering because of toxic workplace behaviors, creating an intentional culture can help reduce toxic behaviors while decreasing stress, boosting happiness & managing conflict.

Learn More About DH Workshops Here

About the Author

Maria Pietroforte

Some say I have a Cinderella story, breaking the glass ceiling by becoming president in an industry dominated by males without being a vice-president. As a C-suite executive for public and privately-held companies earned a reputation for turnarounds and positioning companies. 


I started my consulting firm to share and help leaders, startups, and businesses thrive by transforming work into places where people are connected to strategy, value each other, and get the job done to advance reputation and performance. 

Connect With Maria Pietroforte


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