Decoding Careers: what is the agenda of toxic people?

I always have described that a product manager is like a spider in the web, i.e. he / she has connections with a lot of people and has to work with every relevant people in different departments. But, one day, since you will meet and will have to work with a lot of people, you will have to deal with the toxic colleague: unfortunately, they are everywhere, in small, medium and big corporations. Let me define toxicity with a couple of examples:

A senior person in your company invites you in a meeting with a colleague: the executive asks you to execute on an important task for the company. For that, you will need the support and help of the colleague that was invited too. The meeting goes very well and all parties agree it is important. As the senior executive walks out of the door, the colleague will approach you and tell you that he / she will not do anything at all for you and that essentially you are on your own.

In yourself, you will think: why? Why did he / she do that?

A product manager is ready to release a relevant update of a product, but is waiting for different departments to finish the paper work it’s needed. There are important customers waiting for the update. Yet, colleagues who need to finish all the paper work won’t do anything for you to help. Instead, they will do everything in their power to frustrate the process to let it go wrong. Your product just sits behind the gate and cannot get released. Senior management calls you, yells at you that product is not available and important revenues are missed.

Again why? why would people do that?

A toxic person is not per se the smartest in the room, but smart enough to make a good career. The toxicity starts where his / her position get threatened by you, but differently: it’s not that you are going to get his / her job, but the activities that you are performing may disrupt the toxic person position and the person potentially can get caught on his / her superficial talent. Therefore their agenda is to destroy or frustrate everything that threatens them without a minimal worrying of the company success, revenue, etc. Their agenda is not company success but more surviving. A toxic colleague is not per se jealous of your career unless it impacts his / her position.

So how can you fight a toxic person? in the first example, you can better be on your own. Would you go back to the senior person and expose your colleague of what he / she just said? Don’t do it: you will be seen as the problem as the other person will play poker face.

How do you win then? Convince the executive to track every week not only your tasks but the activities of the colleague who has been asked to help you: make the toxic person part of your project plan with milestones and dates and report that progress has not been made on his / her side. Don’t worry: most of the time it is about ideas, content and expertise that matters and there is no way a toxic person can outsmart you. He  / she puts only energy on frustrations.




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