Why Toxic People are Dangerous: Sashay Away 

A few months ago after reading the last email where someone in my life decided to put me and my work down in front of other people I started thinking about my How to Kick Fear and Toxicity Out of the Workplace presentation, and I came to the following: 

We have three choices as we navigate dealing with toxic people: 

The path of least resistance — Keeping quiet, lowering expectations trying to get through with as few confrontations as possible 

The path of confrontation — Getting down and getting into it 

The path of “I’m done” — To turn on one’s heel and simply walk away. 

We often try to take the high road and smooth the waters, answering jealousy, gossip, or meanness with kindness and understanding because we have empathy — we know people have their struggles and we’ve committed to a life of building bridges instead of burning them. We want to leave the world better than we found it. 

However. 

Sometimes there is a limit. When you’ve offered a wide berth, you’ve tried kindness, you’ve given the benefit of every doubt and still had no results, you need to remember the immortal words of RuPaul, The World’s Most Famous Drag Queen: and you need to Sashay Away. 

Sashay Away: a conscious, deliberate walking away, with a powerful, sassy attitude. 

For those of you not familiar with Ru (and you certainly should be; she’s one of the most positive role models for our young people and all of us) she is wise about toxic people. Another quote of hers I like is “What other people think of me is none of my business.” Though it is difficult to not take what other people say about us to heart. 

I look at learning life lessons about relationships from several different angles:

  • Why has this person come into my life?

  • What am I supposed to learn from them?

  • What are they supposed to learn from me?

But when a relationship reaches a point where toxic behavior (jealousy, gossip, meanness, and sabotage) continues, even after your best efforts to be kind, understanding, graceful and compassionate, it’s time to move on. 

Toxic people are dangerous because eventually, they will bring you down in almost every situation — if you let them. They have no boundaries, and they will never change. They usually continue to be clueless, unaware of the toxicity of their behavior, and ultimately why they do this isn’t our business. However, we shouldn’t stay friends with anyone to “keep our enemies closer” to avoid the fallout of their miserable wrath should we choose to go our own way. But most often that’s what happens; we tolerate or ignore the behavior, and they continue with their hateful machinations. Further, everyone in the circle says, “oh, that’s just the way X person is.” 

I, Heather Newman — call baloney on that. 

Most people avoid conflict or confrontation, condoning and perpetuating this bad behavior by sweeping it under the carpet. And I believe apathy creates terrible happenings in our world. 

Having to cut ties is always uncomfortable. I always want to build bridges with people with differing opinions, but this goes deeper and is different than that. When you clearly see someone’s negativity comes from an irrational place of fear and low self-esteem, and you have continuously tried to win them over, sometimes you have to cut them out of your life like a rotten spot on a avocado. 

I often consult with companies about removing fear and toxicity from the workplace, yet sadly, this post was prompted by a situation in my life. Superficial talk about this issue is easy but getting down to the nitty-gritty of how to honestly deal with someone isn’t as effortless as watching a TED talk or posting uplifting quotes on Instagram. Relating to people is real stuff, tough stuff, and I like concrete answers to hard questions instead of unsatisfying surface chatter. 

Personal development, diversity and inclusion, standing up and being authentic can be painful; these issues stretch us both in the teaching and learning in everyone. It goes deep; it asks us to roll up our sleeves and get down and dirty. I work hard to say the right things, to keep myself educated, to be open to thinking outside my ego, privilege and bias, but we all make mistakes and need to course correct. I believe sharing how we deal with these course corrections in our own lives and workplace is precisely the realness we need to help each other do better. Authenticity and integrity are my goals in this realm. 

This situation made me sad, not angry because I know what this person was and has been going through, but really… WE ALL ARE. You never know what is behind everyone’s smiling eyes. And I have no interest in the game of “I’m going through worse stuff than you, so I get to be an uncontested asshole.” That’s crap and a lame excuse not to change or grow. (Pardon my profanity, but sometimes that’s just the best way to say it.) 

So, I walked away. I will not throw shade or gossip about this person, but I have distanced myself and removed them from my life and circle. We are all true and perfect human beings who deserve pure love, this person included. But actions have consequences. You don’t get to be a part of my tribe if all you want to do is be gossipy about me, be snarky, and denigrate what I bring to the table in front of others. 

Here’s a prescription, for dealing with this behavior: 

Let toxic people go. Really. I know that’s easier said than done, especially with a co-worker, a boss, a close friend, a lover, a colleague, a business partner, or a family member, because those are often the worst culprits (and many times the most significant people of our lives).  

When you can’t completely sever ties, you can still lower your stress levels with these six techniques: 

  1. Minimize interactions as much as possible. 

  2. Be like a duck — let what they say roll off your back. 

  3. When asked about them, be kind, graceful and generous — no gossip. 

  4. Take a deep breath before you react, they are usually poking you for a reaction. 

  5. Remember if something or someone is hurtful, it hurts you and the energy you spend there is not being used on people that lift you and support you. 

  6. You can let people go and keep a door open but on YOUR terms, not theirs. 

And if you are dealing with a narcissist, see this post 

A wise friend of mine gave me these Three L’s to deal with any situation: 

Love it 

Leave it 

Lump it 

The good news is we all get to decide for ourselves which one to choose, in all aspects of life. 

With this situation I chose to Leave it, so with my best heel turn and my head held high, I Sashayed Away. 

Empathy makes us human and action makes us warriors. And all of us deserve to be happy and surrounded by people who care deeply about us instead of tearing us down. Full stop.