"Everything is poison, everything is a medicine; both are determined by the dose."
Toxic people in the office are not toxic by themselves, but rather have toxic behavior. This is an important distinction. There is a difference between the person and his behavior. We may treat them the same, but they are not. There is a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy going on in the workplace. If you look at someone as a genius, egoist, innovator, victim, or any other type - the person will become such, eventually. We also know this phenomenon as the Pygmalion Effect. It became popular in modern days though the play by the same name by George Bernard Shaw. If you believe that a certain person is toxic, it will not be a surprise if at some point he becomes so with your help. This is the essence of the Pygmalion Effect.
Your beliefs are fed by one simple thing. And it is called evidence. The more evidence you notice of a person's toxic behavior, the more you will solidify your beliefs. The harder it will be for you to be neutral and impartial in your observations and communication.
The toxic behaviors by which you will recognize "toxic people" are all derivatives of talking behind people's backs; gossip, inappropriate sarcasm, constant negativity and comparison with others, etc. Also in this category is office drama, in which every usual event in the office is edited, directed, and released into office circulation.
But the biggest drama for people with toxic behavior is the fact that they have to live with themselves. Simply because they suffer 24 hours from their compulsive behavior and thoughts. Unlike the surrounding people who see them just for a short while during the day.
Once you have distinguished between a person and his toxic behavior, there comes the next step which involves looking at yourself. Toxic behaviors are impossible to exist unless the team manager "helps" them to exist.
The question that can help you get out of your way is:
"What in my leadership helps to have people with toxic behavior in the team?"
Here you have to overcome your initial reaction: "They are toxic, it is not me.". Your team is your reflection. Negative behaviors in people simply reflect some negative behaviors in you. And it is with these behaviors you help this problem to exist.
Let us look at a few ways your leadership helps you to have people with toxic behavior on the team.
The first way to "help" this problem is by ignoring it. The second way is by hoping that it will disappear by itself. The third way is by communicating with these people mostly after you have received a complaint from someone else about them and you have entered some Solomonic role of dispensing justice and bringing order. This is how you "help" this problem to exist.
These ways of creating this problem are used simply because they sometimes work, i.e. ignoring the problem sometimes leads to its natural elimination. Toxic behavior may have been simply a temporary condition because of personal problems, and their elimination may lead to stabilization and return to the normal work. But in most cases, ignoring and hoping for things to work out on their own will not work.
The problem is not the toxic behavior of the people in the team. The real problem is the way managers react when they have such behaviors in the team.
To change the situation, you must first change your attitude towards the situation. Hence, your role as a manager presupposes that you first address these people with a supportive rather than a condemning attitude. Managers usually exchange ultimatums with these people simply because they do not know how to approach them. So they go to war, from which everyone loses.
A supportive attitude towards people with toxic behavior does not mean supporting and stimulating their behavior. It means reaching out to create awareness and change. Change can only happen by the people themselves. And only if they want it. And only if they are ready to go through all the usual difficulties of creating a new habit.
For this change to happen, you need to have some tough quality conversations. And quality conversations do not mean accusing and condemning, but focusing on solutions. To be supportive. Even inspiring. For this to happen, you must first take care of your emotional balance. Then you must leave in your mind only a place for care and support for the person and nothing else. If there is a trace of accusation, even if only in your mind, do not have any conversations. First go into your resourceful state, in which you see the big "I" of the person, and only then have conversations.
If you have conversations in which you do not accuse the person verbally of being toxic, but you hold this idea in your mind, your hypocrisy will be written on your face and 100% visible to everyone except you. Therefore, first, meditate on the removal of your demons and only then focus on the removal of others'.
The next step is to make people understand what behavior is acceptable and what is not. For example, it is not acceptable to talk behind people's backs. To spread rumors with half-truths. To send sarcastic arrows between departments, and so on.
People rely on their imagination when they do not have enough information. So if someone doesn't have the facts, the best strategy is to just tell them the truth - that there are no facts. Once you have clarified what is acceptable and what is not, the last step is to get a commitment from the other party to change and adhere to a common understanding of professional behavior.
Commitment goes hand in hand with compliance. And its practice goes hand in hand with inspection. The supportive and encouraging check is a helping hand, not micromanagement.
Even if things go well, people will easily return to old habits. Therefore, your role requires constant calibration of expectations at the behavior level. Every day. However, people with toxic behavior can dig into defense and say to themselves that their behavior is normal, non-toxic, and that they see no reason to change. This is also OK. You do not need to change anyone. Just because you cannot. Here, you may simply have people who are not suitable for your team, your values , and your understanding of professional behavior.
This is also the place to invite people to leave with enthusiasm or to stay with enthusiasm under the professional norms of the organization. It is a big mistake to accept the third option, in which people stay in the organization and continue with their toxic behavior. This will be a sign that these toxic behaviors are supported by you.