Guest Post: How to spot negative behaviour before it becomes toxic

Guest Post: How to spot negative behaviour before it becomes toxic

When working in small teams, the actions of one specific individual can have a large impact on the productivity and wellbeing of the team as a whole i

When working in small teams, the actions of one specific individual can have a large impact on the productivity and wellbeing of the team as a whole if not nipped in the bud. How to deal with disruptive and difficult behaviour is a question regularly posed by leaders, as they feel increasingly frustrated and do not know how to approach the behaviour creating the large disruption, and it is important that this behaviour receives adequate attention before it turns toxic for the whole team – even a team that is cohesive on the surface may be experiencing difficult behaviours that are causing underlying tension.


Some examples of this behaviour may only initially have a small impact however if these remain unchecked, they may manifest into a much greater, and wider issue, within the team and beyond and other members of the team will think this is acceptable behaviour. Not only do they inhibit that individual from working effectively, but they will bring down team morale and take up valuable time of the leader, whose responsibility it often is to deal with the behaviour. Here we provide tips to spot these behaviours and deal with them so there is the most positive outcome for all.


Consider what is causing it

When dealing with difficult behaviours that are causing team tension, it is important not to take a blanket approach and deal with all disruptive behaviour in the same way. Some actions may be a subconscious reaction to other life events or have other underlying causes that require a different approach. For example, there are certain, more temporary, behaviours which are actually caused by stress, and therefore by beginning to alleviate the stress of that person, the disruptive behaviours will begin to cease and may even go away on their own.


If you think there may be a deeper cause to the irritability shown by a team member, you know they are dealing with external issues or these behaviours are very uncommon for them, then a more empathetic approach will be much more beneficial. You could try having a one-to-one meeting with them where you discuss their workload and time management or if required, you could signpost them to specialists, their GP or charities for extra support. Keep employee wellbeing at the heart of your organisation by considering what could be underpinning the behaviour and encouraging an environment that employees feel comfortable to share their feelings in, so any stress does not come out in other, more negative, ways.


What is toxic behaviour?

If the behaviour is having a prolonged negative impact on team productivity and is becoming toxic, this will warrant a different response to address it – but how do you know the behaviour is becoming ‘toxic’?


Time frame

When different people with different personality types come together, friction will sometimes occur, and this can be more easily dealt with in isolation, however, if the same person is showing the same damaging behaviour on a regular basis, or even becomes specifically known for this behaviour, you may need to give this direct attention. As a rough guide, 3 months or 3 incidences is enough to indicate that there is a detrimental pattern forming.


How much is it impacting others

The amount of impact it is having upon the working patterns of others is another way to judge if this behaviour is toxic. For example, some behaviours which could be deemed as negative, such as persistent complaining, may be ignored by others in the workplace and therefore will not need direct action as it is not hindering productivity. Whereas, if the behaviour was having a direct impact on others, it would need attention quickly as a more systemic problem may be present. You can judge if this behaviour is triggering other team members by seeing if there are any changes in their behaviour, including irritability and apathy, as a result of the behaviours of others they are experiencing.


How much time are you spending

If you are spending lots of time trying to manage a certain behaviour, it is most likely that this behaviour could be deemed as toxic as it is taking up too much of your valuable time as a leader.


Derailing projects

Consider if this behaviour is causing tasks and projects to take much longer to complete than they should be, or if you having any negative feedback from clients. If the behaviours are having an impact upon the work you are producing or your client’s experience, you need to give this attention to remove the behaviours.


Tips to resolution

  • Explain the consequences Very often when individuals are confronted about their behaviour they become defensive, but by explaining their behaviour in relation to the consequences and impact it is having on others, this is less likely to happen. Always frame it in a way that shows people what is expected of them rather than what they should stop doing, as this makes the situation a more positive, learning experience.
  • Escalation procedure From the offset, operate and enforce an escalation procedure that shows team members that certain behaviours will not be tolerated in the workplace. Make sure it is fairly enforced so everyone, including the leadership team, is subject to the same expectations. If you do not have one in place, begin to introduce one and you will begin to see improvement in behaviour.
  • Be a role model If you want employees to behave in a certain way, you also need to be exhibiting these behaviours – make sure you walk the talk. If you do not want gossiping to occur in your organisation, do not engage in this behaviour yourself as this clearly demonstrates this is not acceptable.
  • Conflict resolution training Imbed conflict resolution and negotiation training into your culture so everyone feels equipped to manage these instances. These are areas which many people struggle with so providing training for employees will make them feel much more equipped to deal with any issues themselves. This frees up your valuable time as a leader.


Not tackling negative behaviours from when you spot them will allow them to manifest into a much larger problem for the team, not just for productivity but for the wellbeing of others. If you are concerned about the behaviour of an individual, always try to ascertain why they are acting this way and then respond appropriately. This will place the wellbeing of your employees at the top of your agenda.




About the authors:

Karen Meager and John McLachlan set up Monkey Puzzle Training and Consulting to support leaders and teams in their professional and personal growth through training, coaching and business strategy events. They take the latest scientific and academic thinking and make it accessible and usable in peoples’ work and everyday life.


Monkey Puzzle teach people to understand their thought processes and why they (and others) behave in the way they do. These skills enable individuals to choose how they want to behave to get the results they want, which leads to a less stressful, more fulfilling life.