Neutralizing the Toxic Dumper

By Francie Dalton

So - you’re sitting at your desk, working productively - when, as has already happened to you numerous times this week, in comes the Toxic Dumper. Flopping down into a chair with a heavy sigh of exasperation, they proceed to commandeer your time, using you as a dumping ground for complaints of all types.

Let’s be generous and assume that you have only one toxic dumper, who wastes only 10 minutes of your time per day.  That adds up to an entire week per year!  [10 minutes per day multiplied by 240 work days per year =  2400 minutes = 40 hours!]  And keep in mind that from an organizational perspective, since the “dumping” activity involves at least two parties, it really wastes 2 weeks per year.

Why should you act to eliminate the toxic dumper from your life? Five reasons: First, you’re reputed to be like those with whom you are in frequent company. Do you really want to be known as someone who meets often with the worst mal-contents in the office?   Second, we become like those with whom we’re in frequent company. We shouldn’t kid ourselves;  as tough as we may think we are, the constant complainers in our lives do have a negative impact on us. They rob our joy, erode our serenity, and creep into our subconscious with negative chatter. Third, your productivity takes a hit as a result of granting air time to your toxic dumper;  can you really afford that opportunity cost? Fourth, believe it or not, others are aware when the toxic dumper is being thwarted. Taking steps to de-activate the toxic dumper doesn’t escape notice;  instead it ushers into your immediate work environment a higher level of behavioral expectations. and sets you apart from those who aren’t willing to take action. Finally, and quite simply, you’ll save an astonishing amount of time!

Neutralizing the toxic dumper is achieved differently depending upon their hierarchical position relative to you. Find the category below that best fits your situation, and consider which of the tips provided would help you nuke your toxic dumper! 

If the toxic dumper is your superior:

  • The moment you notice this toxic dumper headed your way, stand up and start gathering your things as though you’re heading off to a meeting. As the person enters your office, look up and smile, saying “I’m almost late for a meeting;  we’ll have to catch up later. How about lunch tomorrow?” 

  • This next idea works well if the buttons of your phone are not visible to entrants. When you see this toxic dumper coming, look at your phone and say:  “Sure I’ll be happy to hold”. As the dumper enters your office, say:  “I’m on hold - we’ll have to talk later. How about lunch tomorrow?

  • As the dumper enters your office, simply say:  “I’m on an impossible deadline for an urgent project for my boss. Can we talk later? How about lunch tomorrow?

The good news is that these three approaches don’t require you to confront the issue directly. Instead, you can skirt the actual issue, while simultaneously establishing a pattern of busyness that may be adequate to dissuade further similar interruptions. Perhaps most importantly, these tips begin to set the expectation that such interactions be limited to lunchtime. Remember:  you’ll need to follow-up on that offer for lunch!

If the toxic dumper is your peer:

  • If your peer dumper is a friend, or if you’re uncomfortable with confrontation, one of these two fairly benevolent approaches may be helpful: (a) “You know, you’ve been struggling with this issue for a long time. How about if you take the issue up with the relevant parties and talk it out with them; or  (b) “I empathize with your issues, but talking with you about them during work hours is causing me to get behind in my work. Could we take these conversations off-line?  I’d be happy to meet you for breakfast or lunch…”

  • If you’d rather play hard-ball with your peer dumper, consider some variation of the following:  (a) “You know, at your level you really need to be identifying solutions to problems - not just talking about them. Why not figure out how to solve the problem, and then go implement that solution, instead of complaining to me about it?”  Or, even harder ball:  “Look - it’s not that I don’t like you - it’s just that I can’t afford and frankly don’t want to spend time giving succor to your complaints. If you wanted help solving problems, that’s one thing;  I’d be willing to carve out time to be helpful. But you seem only to want to complain - and I’m just not up for that.”

If the toxic dumper is your subordinate:

  • Require that your subordinate identify at least two possible solutions to every problem before bringing the problem to you

  • Use the Socratic method. When your subordinate complains about something, don’t respond with advice or solutions. Instead, ask the specific, successive questions that lead your subordinate through the reasoning process, revealing what you already know to be the appropriate conclusion.

Given the volume of work for which most of us are responsible, we simply must be willing to issue “cease and desist” orders to our toxic dumpers!  Using the tips provided in this article should get you off to a good start!

Read other articles and learn more about Francie Dalton.

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