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Enhancing Wellbeing

Managing Poison Apples


Managing Poison Apples

Every team needs a mix of personalities and these manifest in distinct work behavioural styles. The ‘protester’ – who will challenge for the sake of challenge, the ‘passenger’ – who will coast and do the bare minimum, the ‘player’ – the activist who wants to move now, the ‘pioneer’ – the innovator, and the ‘terrorist’ – need I say more!

One or more of these individual styles will at some point lead to a clash. However, the styles may clash but that doesn’t mean to say they are dysfunctional – in fact it might drive critical change within the team, change the dynamic in such way that it moves from storming to performing. Occasionally, however, you encounter an individual, who may be driven by any of the above personas, but they are hell bent on making you and your environment suffer. The sad reality is that you come across individuals at work who are almost psychopathic in their behaviour – poison apples. Such people can be callous, determined and daring. These individuals, more often than not have no moral compass, so they cannot be reasoned with. They are smart, manipulative, and very convincing to the outside world. Consequently, challenge becomes difficult because they appear plausible to the outside work environment, but also because they have no compunction about causing the maximum amount of damage, and they will send subtle signals to make you aware of this latter fact.

The starting point to manage these workplace viruses is by controlling personal responses. Avoid internal anger at all costs as this creates worry and anxiety. When we react impulsively to negativity, we are mentally creating pain within ourselves. Some individuals in the workplace like problems and conflict. They are often so bored and unhappy with their own lives that they want to take others down with them. This recognition is the starting point.

When we fight back, it turns the situation from one-sided negative expression into a battle of two egos. It becomes an unnecessary and unproductive battle, which is often what is sought from the poison apple. Anger only serves to feed further negativity. Impulsivity requires energy and creates a reaction precedent, where you will feel more psychologically compelled to defend. Once you respond you create an expectation of further reaction from the poison apple, who will then attempt to elicit further negativity. This then has wider potential impact into other aspects of life; clarity can be lost and you may generalise unconsciously to matters in other areas. And, energy spent on negativity is energy that could have been spent on your personal wellbeing.

Time is valuable, so unless there’s something important at stake, don’t waste it by trying to change or convince a person who’s negatively entrenched.

Firstly, lets consider the wider business impact of such individuals. When we encounter negativity from poison apples, this can lead to skewed perceptions of behaviour in the workplace, i.e. interpreting a colleague’s failure to respond to a communication as ignoring or avoiding you. This is how poison apples can create a toxic culture within a business, by creating wider misinterpretation & misunderstanding of other peoples’ behaviour within the same team/department/office. This toxic feed into a business culture needs to be countered, and this can be achieved by avoiding personalising other people’s behaviours within your immediate environment. People do what they do because of them more than because of you. By broadening perspectives on any wider situation we can reduce the possibility of misunderstanding.  The point is to remind yourself that people do what they do because of their own issues. Always retain reasonable and considerate behaviour towards others when impacted by poison apples. By de-personalising, we can view other situations more objectively, and come up with better ways of problem solving, diffusing the potential for cultural contamination from these individuals.

When responding to poison apples directly, it is also important to pick your battles. Not all difficult individuals we face require immediate confrontation about their behaviour. Firstly, you need to analyse the balance of power in any given situation between you and the poison apple. Another situation where you might want to think twice about confrontation is when, by putting up with the difficult behaviour, you derive a certain benefit. It’s important to analyse the situation from these perspectives and save your energy to fight the battles that are truly worth fighting.

Where a confrontational situation is unavoidable, there are two factors to consider: the nature of the relationship you have with this person, and the issue you are discussing. A common pattern with difficult people (especially the aggressive types) is that they like to place attention on you to make you feel uncomfortable or inadequate. Typically, they’re quick to point out there’s something not right with you or the way you do things. The focus is consistently on “what’s wrong,” instead of how to jointly tackle the problem. This type of communication is often intended to dominate and control, rather than address the issue in hand. If you react by being on the defensive, you simply fall into the trap of being scrutinised, thereby giving the poison apple more power.

Objectivity can be maintained by driving a focus on the issue; you detach yourself from the toxic personality, and create a focus purely on problem solution. This can be achieved by questioning the poison apple. Use acronyms like CIGAR (Current position, Ideal position, Gap that blocks this ideal, Actions needed and Result sought, to drive this questioning. This focus deflects their attempt to control by turning the spotlight on them, putting you in the leadership position.

Humour is a further disarming tactic that can be used during any aggressive interaction with poison apples. Weave this into your questioning where possible as it further shows your detachment from negative behaviour, and demonstrates superior composure when faced with problems.

The most important thing to keep in mind about poison apples is they are bullies, who, more often than not, have been workplace victims themselves. However, this in no way excuses bullying behavior. They will often pick on those whom they perceive as weaker, so if you remain passive and compliant in the workplace, you make yourself a target. Most poison apples are also cowards on the inside, so by adopting the counter psychological tactics above, most of the time, will cause them to back down.

To conclude, when confronting unreasonable and difficult people it becomes important to master certain communication techniques. However, mastering deflective communication styles is only the start. These have to be delivered consistently and with confidence. Bullies will also examine your non-verbal style and posture. They will come back at you from different angles and perspectives. They will attempt to give momentum and impetus to their own cause by lobbying others through charismatic authority. Finally, if they have seniority they will utilise it to the full extent to instill job insecurity. So, always place yourself in a position where you can counter these primary tactics. If you are alone with the poison apple, use objectivity and humour and shift the balance of power. Hold your ground, regardless of how much it enrages them. Where possible, have other people present to witness and support, or keep detailed records of the inappropriate behaviour. Remember, laws and/or internal policy are in place to protect against invidious verbal and emotional abuse. Make yourself aware of all statutory and policy options, which will give you the ability to identify and assert consequence(s). Consequence compels cowardice.

Poison apples seek to divide; they create toxic cultures by invoking fear and distrust. If you wish to succeed in todays business environment, then use effective communication strategies to metaphorically pick them from your workplace barrel.





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