Monday, February 14, 2011

Roadmap to Innovation Part Three: Toxic People

In every walk of life, you may encounter toxic people.  These are people that will stand in the way of innovation.  These are the people that assure mediocrity.  When building an innovation-fueled organization, avoid these personality types.

The Gossip

The gossip is the person that derives intrinsic motivation from the sharing of negative knowledge.  They will repeat and rumor they acquire and go to great lengths to always be "in the loop".  Their information may be useful, sensationalized, or completely fabricated. 

It should be noted- humans frequently talk about each other, this is a method we use to build mutual trust and social bonding.  However, only about 5% of these conversations are negative.  This percentage is significantly higher among gossips, which also harms social bonding.

The gossip will ultimately hurt morale because they create an under-current of distrust.  The members of the organization become guarded, which limits the free flow of ideas.  This bottle-necking of creativity hurts innovation.

A gossip is difficult to correct.  If confronted, the gossip will simply find another less-detectable medium to spread their "news".

The Complainer

The complainer verbalizes their dissatisfaction on a frequent basis.  Their frequent highlighting of the negative corrodes overall morale much like the gossip.  While some attention to the negative aspect of any idea can be valuable feedback, the complainer's griping is not intended to be productive.

The complainer may manifest themselves in several ways.  Some may appear cheerful to the casual observer.  Some are grumpy and withdrawn.  Others are marked with a whiny disposition.  In any case, they frequently have a self-righteous attitude and a tendency to blame others.  

Complainers complain because the behavior provides self-validation.  First, it shifts blame to others.  Second, they can then compare themselves to others; their "goodness' overshadows others "badness".

Some complainers can be corrected by routinely highlighting their complaints as they may not be consciously aware of their habits.  In others the habit may be so ingrained no intervention will be effective.

The Suspicious Person
I have always found this personality type interesting.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, this personality type is toxic.  Many times, the suspicion of others is a manifestation of guilt.

It works like this.  When we assess the behaviors of others, we often frame their behavior with our own perception of the world.  If we believe all people are fundamentally good, we assume others think the same way.

It is relatively easy to see this phenomenon in action.  Simply observe how a person interacts with others.  You will quickly begin to see how they perceive the world.  More importantly, you will see how they perceive others. 

Back to the suspicious personality.  This personality type has a few hallmark behaviors, including:
  • Preoccupation with trust and loyalty,
  • Often believe others' behaviors have malicious motives,
  • Have few close relationships and may appear socially-awkward,
  • Are generally quiet, but can easily become argumentative,
  • Are especially sensitive to criticism,
  • Prefer passive-aggressiveness to direct confrontation,
  • Often exhibits a superiority complex (believe they are better than others),
  • Exhibits a black-and-white sense of right and wrong,
  • Are ineffective in team or group situations,
  • Often believes there are hidden meanings in seemingly innocuous events.
Where does this behavior type come from?  In most cases, certain parenting styles seem to cause it.  Parents generally spend a great deal of time teaching the child to be hyper-vigilant about making mistakes and make the child feel as if they are different from other children.

The interesting thing about this personality type is their behaviors are often incongruous with their beliefs.  They assume others have something to hide because they have something to hide.

If these people are part of your organization, be very cautious when considering their input.  Distrust is the antithesis of innovation.  In the educational or organizational setting this toxic suspicion will impede any real creativity and innovation.


Each of these three personality types are toxic to the innovative organization.  All three will limit the organization's ability to grow and prosper.  Be aware of these personality types when building a team. 

More importantly, consider yourself.  Do you have any of these characteristics?  Personally, I have fallen into the "complainer" trap before.  For me, it is an easy pattern of behavior to adopt.  Recognizing its futility has helped me identify the times I've fallen into that particular behavior pattern.
In future posts, I will continue to explore various personality types and their affect on organizations.

How about you?  What are your experiences with these personality types?

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