I enjoy the theater. There does not have to be a huge set with falling chandeliers for me to be wowed (I don’t mind it, either). I like content and flow. A simple spotlight, a chair, a well-written script and a devoted actor can move an audience to tears, laughter and even, change. Sometimes a great play makes for a great movie. And so it is with A Streetcar Named Desire. Tennessee Williams’ play about a young couple living modestly in New Orleans when the wife’s sister arrives in need and in poor condition.
Stanley, the husband, is rough, unkind, cruel and criminal. He is the toxic element in the play, though on the surface, we’re to think it of Blanche (the sister). It’s masterfully written and perfectly acted in the 1951 film. Toxicity is brought to a new level as the lasting impact is subtly but beautifully highlighted in the fade out on Stella (the wife).
We have Stanleys at work. Perhaps the criminality isn’t there (I hope!), but certainly the toxicity is present. There are those who thrive on rumor, judgement and being a malcontent to all. It’s a stress that can run deep in a department, if not the whole company. And for those who are victimized by these people, it’s debilitating, even devastating. Your contribution is impacted as your ability to engage is hampered by fear and frustration. And it’s time to address it.
- Assess the situation: Take the time to evaluate the reality, emotionality and depth of circumstances. While it’s true that some may be overly emotional by nature, it is not a blanket catch-all to dismiss someone’s experience. Look at what’s happening. What is someone doing to be overbearing, demeaning or dismissive? Are there specific instances that you have been a part of? Make note of them. And if you have a peer or friend to talk through these details with, do so. You might need to hear the point of view from someone not connected to the situation.
- Talk to management/HR: Unfortunately, this is often where things go awry. There may be a fear of speaking to management because of repercussion or retaliation. If there’s a sense of distrust, employees will more often just bite the bullet regarding the toxicity in the workplace. They will try to carry on and just tell themselves to not care as much or to avoid deep engagement with their work. And if management is the issue, HR has to be the place to go. If you’ve not spoken to HR before, try not to make assumptions about what they may do. HR is meant to be an outlet for workplace distress and its relevant solution. However, when HR and management are unsafe, then the environment itself is corrupt. You should not stay. You don’t deserve to stay embedded in toxicity with a company that minimizes its people.
- Document: Keep a log of what you’ve experienced. It’s valuable to the process. It is, also, a tool for your mental health. Dwelling on unhealthy thoughts is destructive, and it will only be so to you. If you’re already suffering with a toxic co-worker, then to have your mind saturated with it leaves you with no respite.
It’s important to note that not every annoying co-worker is toxic. A toxic person is purposeful and calculated. There are reasons for their actions. The plan is to maintain position, appearance, necessity, status and/or power. It’s a corrosive experience to be with that person. Annoying and toxic are not the same thing.
Be sure that frustration over process or policy isn’t being ascribed to an individual and therefore making that person appear to be toxic. It’s always good to look at the history of engagement with the co-worker. There should be a few tell-tale signs and examples.
Toxic-dealing is not on anyone’s job description (well, maybe, a counselor or psychologist). If your work experience is being hampered by a Stanley, it’s time to address it. And if that toxic person yells for you to stay in line, don’t be a Stella.