Have You Witnessed a Toxic Situation Unfold at Work? These Are the 3 Times You Should Intervene

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Kristy Busija289
Executive Coach & Talent Management Cosultant

Far too often, when something is uncomfortable (conflict, awkward conversations, you don’t know how to respond), leaders avoid it. Not because you don’t want to tackle it, but because you may not know how to or you are worried about damaging the relationship. It is either handled behind the scenes, in a passive-aggressive manner or it’s ignored altogether.  No one benefits from this and the unintended consequence is you are robbing all parties of a chance to learn and grow from the situation while possibly damaging working relationships in the process.

If you're struggling with knowing when to intervene, these 3 points may help: 

1. It goes against your values or the values of the organization.

Each action you take reflects what you value and stand for. And sometimes, you need to channel managerial courage to support your team and colleagues (or yourself). For example, what do you do when you see another colleague being disrespected or another leader demonstrating behaviors that are not inclusive and/or respectful? Do you choose to do nothing and assume that someone else sees it and will say something? Or do you lean in and have a crucial conversation? The unintended consequence of saying nothing is you are sending a message to others that you agree with the behavior and/or condone it, even if you don’t. 

  • When you hear yourself saying “someone else will surely say something,” verify your assumption. And when needed, say something.

  • Ask yourself how you would want your team to be treated. If the behavior is not in alignment with the organization’s culture and values, have a managerial courage moment and lean into a crucial conversation.

2. Purposeful exclusion.

There is a lot of information being discussed each day. Meetings, IMs, texts, phone calls, walk-up meetings, and the list goes on. We can’t all be in every conversation or meeting, nor should we want to. And we can’t remember every single person that needs to be included or every capability available in the organization. But we shouldn’t exclude intentionally. When you see or hear colleagues being purposely excluded, it’s time to intervene and become the connector. Be the connector and share what you know, recommending who should touch base and connect and why. If you hear of a need in the organization that you know someone else would be amazing at, make the connection. Finally, if you hear information that adds to the conversation and expands the perspective, share it. 

3. Intentional misinformation.

“There is some truth in it.” Yes, and the key term is “some.” False information or half-truths share this commonality – something is correct, which makes it sounds realistic or plausible to the ear of the listener. Nothing is more toxic to a more environment nor more damaging to the subject of it than gossip or misinformation. Having been on the wrong side of this equation more than once in my career, I can attest to that fact. And the most devastating part was that those who had the power to stop the conversation in its tracks did nothing. They took the information at face value and made snap judgments about my character. And anyone who knows me knows that is the wrong thing to come after, especially because none of what was being said was true. At all. And I’ve been on the other side of the table, hearing things about colleagues, scratching my head because it didn’t “sound right.” Here’s my advice to keep the information as factual as possible.

  • Validate what you are hearing and don’t jump to an assumption or conclusion. Go into detective mode and gather facts that support all sides of the story.

  • Lean into the uncomfortable conversation and let the person provide her/his perspective.

Leadership isn’t always easy and sometimes the hardest thing we can do is to break the cycle of toxic behaviors in the workplace. At the end of the day, our goal should be that everyone feels valued, heard, and respected at work and anything contrary is a time to intervene. When something goes against values (your or the organization’s), colleagues are being purposefully excluded, or there is intentional misinformation are three solid ways to start and make a difference.

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This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

Kristy Busija, ACC, BCC is the CEO and Founder of Next Conversation Coaching, known for helping individuals, teams and organizations unleash their potential, one conversation at a time. What is your Next conversation? Check out Next Conversation Coaching to see how her team can help you today.

What's your no. 1 piece of advice for those who have witnessed a toxic situation unfold at work? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!