Book Review:

Toxic

by Clive Lewis

8 November 2022

Poor or toxic behaviour in organisation is nothing new; yet as Lewis points out in this comprehensive book on the topic, we are still poor at doing anything substantial about it. He identifies three key ‘actors’ that need to take ownership of identifying causes and delivering solutions: the organisation; managers; and individuals – and each chapter in the book ends with a handy hints page of what each of these three groupings can do to improve things. This easy to read book is wide ranging, well researched, and includes many examples of Lewis’s own experiences as a well-regarded mediator. It offers plenty of practical advice, ranging across key issues (easily identifiable as chapter headings in the book) such as Culture, Leadership, Respect and Conflict Management. This book is an essential read for anyone who has poor an inappropriate behaviours in their workplace, and wants to address them.

& here are the key takeaways...

Individuals are not toxic; instead they develop toxic behaviour when working in an organisation that support its practice

How to manage conflict...

It’s absolutely not about disagreement or difference; it’s how such differences and disagreements are managed to a positive outcome. People need to recognise that difference can produce benefits, and not be a source of hostile conflict.

Impact of the gig economy and contract work

In a gig economy, contractors will leave a toxic organisation, rather than having a longer term commitment to trying to fix it. So there is a danger that, if this type of work is on the increase, there will not be enough internal momentum for change.

Behavioural and technical competence

To address toxicity means having a culture and set of organisational systems that value behavioural competence as much as technical or task competence. It’s no longer good enough to tolerate rude or toxic behaviour because, for example, she or he is excellent at their technical role, and difficult to replace.

Key organisational roles

In Lewis’ experience, there are three ‘types’ of people who deal with challenging situations differently: a tackler, who confronts the issue sensitively and firmly; a reckless tackler, who confronts the unwanted behaviour and is led by emotion, and a dodger, who works hard to avoid any confronting of the difficulty. Only the first is helpful, but it is far less common than the other two

In the NHS it takes an average of 19 months & 2 weeks before a conflict goes to mediation: so as a result someone could have 589 nights of disturbed sleep

External and internal change

Lewis makes the point that there could be two types of change required from people who have anti-social and anti-civil behaviours. Firstly, and perhaps most effectively, the individual could change internally. For example, if someone has been unaware of their poor behaviour – for example sexism or racism, then as soon as they are made aware, they instantly accept how they have been, and make a there-and-then commitment to change; this change is internal, coming from within. However Lewis believes that some people will never make that internal adjustment – they (and he) believe ‘that’s just the way they are’, so what’s needed then is external adjustments. Someone recently said to me: “won’t they just be acting then?” and if that’s the case, then that’s ok – it’s what professional actors do every night on stage. They don’t have to ‘be’ their character; they just have to perform the role convincingly. So be it.

Respect at work

Lewis’ book refers to the ‘Respect At Work’ review of 2019, where the toxic nature of the HMRC in the UK was put under the microscope.

In the Report’s view, 9 conditions were essential as a platform for Respect in the Workplace. Whilst it is a worthy list, it begs a few questions:

  • Can these principles be converted into actual behaviours. HOW precisely, for example, can trust be witnessed, evidence and observed? Is it a feeling, rather than an observation?
  • Are some of the terms too woolly? In terms of recognising the achievement of others, what level or ‘recognition’ has to be present?
  • What action will be taken if any of the above are judged to be missing?
  • Might empowering staff might have the reverse effect? How might a bully act if empowered?

9 conditions essential for Respect in the Workplace:

  1. Trusting colleagues
  2. Empowering staff
  3. Valuing the views and qualities of others
  4. Being considerate of the circumstances of others
  5. Being friendly and courteous
  6. Acting inclusively
  7. Helping colleagues to do the right thing
  8. Recognising the achievement of others
It is imperative that you learn to separate the negativity you are swimming in daily from the reality of who you truly are

Toxic

by Clive Lewis

Poor performance from a different perspective – toxic culture, rather than toxic people; but a toxic culture empowers toxic behaviour….open

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