Toxic people are everywhere . . . do you know how to cope with them without getting burned?

By Steve Moran

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Paul White, who co-wrote “The Five Languages of Appreciation” with Gary Chapman.

The Five Languages of Appreciation, as per

Based on the #1 New York Times bestseller The 5 Love Languages (over 11 million copies sold), this book shows how each language of appreciation can dramatically improve workplace relationships . . . A bestseller in its own right—having over 250,000 copies in print, and translated into 15 languages—this book has a proven history of success.

But THAT is not the book I wanted to talk to him about. The book I actually wanted to talk to him about is another book he co-wrote with Gary Chapman called “Rising Above the Toxic Workplace


Rising Above The Toxic Workplace, as per

Learn how to thrive in—or escape from—a toxic work environment . . .

Many employees experience the reality of bullying bosses, poisonous people, and soul-crushing cultures on a daily basis. Rising Above the Toxic Workplace tells authentic stories from today’s workers who share how they cope, change, or quit. Candidly they open up about what they learned, what they wish they had done, and how to gain resilience.


Dr. White has a special name for a particularly vile group of leaders, Toxic Achievers — whom he describes as follows: “. . . people that are really good at what they do professionally . . . but while they do what they do, they sort of kill everyone around them . . . they’re tough to work with. People don’t like to work with them and they tend to have a revolving door of assistants or colleagues because people just don’t want to put up with it.”

Coping With Toxic People

Toxic Achievers can be anyone in an organization, from the CEO down to the frontline staff. Dr. White offers some real-world solutions to some of the challenges that come in dealing with these types of individuals.

  1. Keep Focused On Your Own Job — Toxic Achievers can draw you off task. You get concerned about what they are doing, how they are treating somebody else, etc. Before you realize it, you are suddenly behind on your own responsibilities which puts you at risk in your own accountability.

  2. Document, Document, Document — At some point, there WILL be a conflict. Maybe a he said/she said situation or misunderstanding. So always document your interactions with Toxic Achievers. Even if it’s just a simple conversation, it’s always healthy to send a follow-up email along the following lines: “This is what I understand per our conversation . . . and if that’s not the case, please let me know”. This allows for clear communication and a paper trail should any misunderstandings ever arise.

  3. Have Witnesses — When you know you are going to be dealing with a known Toxic Achiever, grab a co-worker, have a witness present to make sure there is more than one person to observe the individual’s behavior.

I asked Dr. White specifically about how I can prevent toxic people from destroying me emotionally. His response, “Well, it’s a challenge and it’s a growth area for most of us. Part of it is you have to learn and accept that it’s not about you. It really is them. And if you watch very long you will see that they treat other people — maybe not everyone, since they are good at schmoozing — but they treat other people poorly as well. So it’s not just about you. You have to get that out of your head. It’s their behavior.”

Find A Sounding Board

“You really need a sounding board. Someone whose judgment you trust,” continues Dr. White. “… [W]e get fogged around these people. So it’s helpful to have somebody that you can bounce your thoughts, ideas, observations off of and get some reality feedback. Because sometimes we will overreact, too, when we are upset.”

Dr. White had so many other words of wisdom to share regarding dealing with a difficult personality in the workplace. You can watch my full interview with him below and I definitely recommend picking up a copy of his book, Rising Above the Toxic Workplace.