I’m smiling because you’ve finally driven me insane.
Ever feel that way? Probably so. Your workplace probably has a few difficult people. As one person wrote me, “There is always one more imbecile than you counted on.”
Even your family may be the source of occasional irritation. In a candy shop I saw a sign that read, “Families are like fudge… mostly sweet… with a few nuts.” And one person joked on a marriage enrichment cruise I was conducting, “I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury.”
The fact is… there are two kinds of people in the world… according to Dr. Sidney Simon, author of “Negative Criticism.” He says there are “toxic” and “nourishing” people. And one of the secrets to happiness and success is limiting your exposure to the toxic people while expanding your time with the nourishing ones.
=> 1. Who are the toxic people?
No one says it better than Dottie Dace of Gainesville, Florida. She says the toxic ones have one or more of the 5 C’s. They’re cheap, crabby, critical, complaining, or cruel.
Be careful of those types. They’ll lower your self-esteem and suck out your energy. And you WILL burn out faster if you spend too much time with them.
But you ask…
=> 2. What do you do if you’re stuck with toxic people?
It would be nice if you could turn them into nourishing people. Sometimes you can’t.
It’s like the man who bought a parrot, but after he purchased it, he discovered the parrot swore terribly. And being the quiet, conservative type, the man tried to change the parrot’s behavior. He tried reasoning with the bird; he withheld food, but nothing worked.
Finally one day, when he’d had enough, the man locked the bird in a kitchen cabinet for several minutes. But when he opened the door, the bird let loose an even stronger string of swear words.
At his wit’s end, the man threw the parrot in the freezer. Again he waited for a few minutes. This time, when he opened the door, the parrot emerged and apologized for his behavior. He promised to keep his tongue under control from now on.
“By the way,” the parrot asked, “what did the chicken do?”
Yes, it’s great if you can turn toxic people into nourishing people. I’ve written several articles on how you can do that in previous “Tuesday Tips.” But in case you can’t change those toxic people, then you need to pull away from them. Practice creative neglect.
For example, you may have a coworker who goes on and on about how poorly she feels. She’s asked for your advice, which you’ve given on several occasions, but she pays no attention. She continues to smoke, drink excessively, eat junk food, and never exercise.
You may need to pull away when she launches into another pity party about her health. You may need to wish her well and excuse yourself. Or you may need to change the subject. Find creative ways to neglect that topic — which has become nothing more than an immature attention-getting device.
As one of my former students Karen Gazzola said, “I need to be much more aware of my own needs. This means being more selective. It is true that there are a lot of fish in the sea, but I don’t have to make friends with every shark, bullhead, or eel. I am much more suited to walleye or salmon.”
In essence, Karen was saying you should look for the nourishing people. Well, that being the case…
=> 3. Who are the nourishing people?
You’d better find them because they literally add years to your life. Edward Hallowell documented that in his book, “Connect.”
In a 10-year study of women with breast cancer, two groups of women were given the same exact treatments… with one exception. One of the groups met for 90 minutes, once a month, in a support-group setting, where they would engage in lots of open, honest communication about their situation. The women in that group lived twice as long.
According to Dr. Simon, nourishing people have several characteristics.
* They always have something nice to say about you… no matter what you wear, how you look, or what you do.
* They make it safe for you to ask any question or share any feeling. They don’t beat you up for being yourself.
* They allow you to be fragile when times are tough… never taking advantage of you when you’re already down.
* They challenge you intellectually. They help you think of new and better ways to handle situations.
* They are tender and gentle, giving you lots of validation and a limited amount of criticism.
* They bring fun and laughter into your life.
* And, they walk in when everyone else walks out.
I would put Marti Wiseman, one of my “Tuesday Tip” subscribers in that category. She’s the kind of nourishing person we all need in our lives.
“I was having a challenging day at work. I had multiple projects in various stages of complexity, with limited resources. I was just having one of those days, where feelings of discouragement were getting the better of me.
“I got your ‘Tuesday Tip’ and, instead of putting it in the ‘read-at-lunch’ folder, I read it right away — knowing it would have some words and ideas that would generate some positive thoughts and action. It did.
“And so, instead of skipping lunch and trying to bash my way through some project barriers, I decided to visit my friend Dorothy.
“Dorothy is an elderly blind woman who I met in a nursing home last Fall. I went to the nursing home with my two therapy dogs for the first time . And there she was — the woman who taught me my first dog-training class over 30 years ago. What an impact she had on my life! I now compete in dog sports, do occasional training, and share this hobby with my husband, my family, and a wonderful circle of treasured friends. My life is filled with the joy of learning, travel, friendship, and compassion… all because as a child I discovered the deep satisfaction that connecting another living being can bring.
“And so began my regular weekly and twice-weekly visits to Dorothy’s room… to visit, read stories, or just hold her hand as she slept. And they have always been visits of great joy and meaning — even when we didn’t converse.
“Yesterday was no exception. I got to Dorothy’s room at about 12:10 PM and hugged her, helped her eat her lunch, told stories and enjoyed an hour of two-way loving connection.
“I returned to work energized, touched by Dorothy’s positive and gentle nature. She is always so polite and kind. Even though we only recently reconnected and even though I’m not sure she remembers me from visit to visit, I love her dearly. And being able to spend loving time with Dorothy helped me shift my own energy from exhaustion and frustration at work to hope and peaceful joy overall. I am so glad I went and it was such a special visit — I will treasure it always.
“Do you remember the commercial that featured the slogan, ‘Thanks!! I needed that?’ Well, that’s the message I send back to you. Thanks, Alan! I needed your ‘Tuesday Tip.’ I needed that reminder that the best way to build one’s energy is to give to another. I did, it worked — as it always does — and Dorothy and I had a better day because of your reminder.
“Thank you so much. And — as a nice footnote — today is a good day in the office. Two projects are moving along better than I’d expected, and I am feeling good about the rest! What a difference an attitude adjustment can make!”
And I say, “Thanks, Marti, for giving us a great example of what it means to be a nourishing person.” Now it’s time for all of us to practice a bit of that behavior.
Action: Figure out one thing you can do to pull away from a toxic person and one thing you can do to spend more time with a nourishing person.