The dire impact of toxic communication

Donna felt resigned to the fact that yet another meeting was going to be unproductive and possibly even destructive because she knew Adrian, her manager, was angry.  He opened the meeting with a rant to the team in a manner that clearly communicated his dissatisfaction. ‘You all made too many mistakes! You’ll need to start all over again and figure out a better way!’. It drove the team spirit out of the room. Donna remembered how her previous manager, Jason, had handled a similar situation and wished Adrian could talk to the team in a way that was cohesive instead of divisive.  Already she saw Pete shrug his shoulders and mutter ‘Fine, we’ll start again, maybe if someone had only listened to me.’  She was certain a different way of communicating would have better results.  She longed for Jason’s clear style: ‘Well our approach hasn’t worked, so where do we go from here?’ He would emphasise ‘we’ and look for possibilities rather than blaming or he would never have a childish rant.

Being a team leader is a position of power and their emotional intelligence and communication abilities will have a significant impact on the team.

A toxic style is contagious

The leader’s attitude and style will directly influence team spirit and the team’s ability to collaborate. Toxicity from the leader will invite out other toxic behaviours from the team, like Pete’s snarky comment. This kind of behaviour will often lead to divisions between team members, passive-aggressive comments, passing the buck, manipulating others or a complete shutdown where a team member will refuse to say anything at all for fear of being accused or ridiculed.

If leaders allow themselves to be aggressive or intolerant, psychological safety will go out the window. Team members will be afraid to offer out their opinions, especially if they are inclined to avoid confrontation. The team not only loses out on good ideas, it will also lose out on hearing about impending disasters.

It does not have to be this way. Here are a few tips for leaders:

  • Learn to rein in the desire to point fingers, blame or put people in their place. Sure, someone might have failed, but having a tantrum about it doesn’t help. Calm yourself and learn to deal with problems productively.
  • Empathy is key. This doesn’t mean accepting bad behaviour from others, but it does mean allowing space for mistakes. Well-regarded leaders understand their people and help them solve problems and develop their abilities.
  • Listen to people even if you are afraid of what they might tell you. It’s a simple reality that mistakes happen, and it is your attitude and approach that matter if you want to lead people through difficulties into new solutions.
  • Ask for feedback from team members so you can recognise how your word choice, tone and even body language impacts your communication.

When a team is collaborative and communicating effectively, they are far more likely to be productive, so taking time to recognise communication styles – especially toxic styles – is essential for creating productive high-performing teams.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ style of communication but any effective style will include respect, curiosity and patience. These are the foundations that enable psychological safety and will contribute to a productive team morale, a positive outlook and high performance.

Rewired to Communicate

Rewired to Communicate

Find out more about how we can help your leaders learn communication skills that lead to productive teamwork.

more info