How to Tell When Your Work Mindset Becomes Toxic
Every week, I meet people who are genuinely baffled why they aren’t more successful. They are smart, confident and capable… but their career just hit a stone wall. The reason it’s so easy to find these people is because most of us – at one time or another – encounter such lulls in our career.
I’d like to share a useful way to gain clarity into your own behavior and how it might be impacting your career. In moments of frustration, when you may feel a little out of touch with where you really want to be, you can reference this tool to better understand where you are, and how to get to the destination you most desire.
If you are frustrated at the moment, it’s highly possible that your behavior may have drifted into the red triangle you see at the bottom of this image. If so, you probably have adopted one of three mindsets:
Dependence: You are here to serve me.
Independence: I serve me.
Codependence: I serve you, so that you will serve me.
The common word in each mindset isme. People who are obsessed with their own self-interest will never reach their full potential within an organization. Some achieve short-term success, but eventually their toxic behavior sinks their career.
Here’s the real problem: almost none of these people think they are engaging in toxic behaviors. To the contrary, they tend to perceive themselves as capable and responsible. But if any of these four behaviors describe you, the odds are you have drifted into the toxic triangle:
- You blame or criticize. This can occur either inwardly toward oneself or outwardly toward others. You can think this, or speak it.
- You are defensive. This often takes place in connection with the other behaviors. You may be tempted to think that you, alone, are right. You are closed, and unappreciative of other ideas or perspectives.
- You stonewall others. You may give others the silent treatment, or avoid certain people at all costs. You may engage in inauthentic politeness, where you circle another and never speak openly about what is happening. You are working hard to build walls that – you mistakenly think – will keep you safe.
- You show contempt. This often looks like sarcasm, name-calling, or may even reach the level of bullying. You will feel dislike or deep disregard along with contempt, as if the other person is beneath you.
The hard reality is that most of us have spent time in the toxic triangle; it’s all too easy to get sucked down there.
To escape this dark place, you need to aim higher. Specifically, you need to move towards the mindset represented by the green triangle above, which has at its peak:
Interdependence: I serve us, so we can serve others.
Professional success – especially in our interconnected world – requires that you focus on “us” rather than “me”. This is true even when other people are, like you, imperfect. It’s true even when others spend too much time in the toxic triangle.
If you want to be successful, you simply have to rise above the fray. More on this in my next article.
DeAnna Murphy is a leadership development consultant and team effectiveness strategist with over 7,000 hours leading experiential learning programs and leadership development programs.