When the Toxic Employee Is You

Nobody’s perfect. If you behaved less than professionally at a recent meeting or workplace situation, you can take these four steps to set things right.

Many of us have worked with a toxic individual before. You know the type — controlling, quick to gossip, taking credit for other people’s work, and talking over others. But admit it: There have also been bad days when you were the person who didn’t bring their best self to work. Perhaps you provided overly critical feedback to an employee or raised your voice during a meeting.

Fear not, it’s not too late to make amends, according to Mitchell Kusy, Ph.D. In his recently published book Why I Don’t Work Here Anymore: A Leader’s Guide to Offset the Financial and Emotional Costs of Toxic Employees, Kusy spells out how employees who display what he calls “uncivil behaviors” can take responsibility for their actions in a meaningful way.

This requires moving past the typical “I’m sorry I [blank], but…” kind of apology that so many of us make, which Kusy, a professor in the Graduate School of Leadership & Change at Antioch University, says falls short of the mark. “Why?” he writes. “Because what comes after the ‘but’ is often regarded as the excuse, which ends up essentially negating the apology.”

Instead, Kusy introduces an apology process in the book that genuinely conveys that you’re sorry and how you intend to move forward. “Every step is important in this newly framed apology,” he writes. “Overlooking any step can yield an apology that falls short.” Here is an excerpt of his four-step process.

State what you did in concrete terms, framed in the past, such as, “Over the past few months, I have been intimidating you through bullying behavior at team meetings.” Do this “in order to zero in on the offensive action so there is no misinterpretation.”

Acknowledge how this behavior has affected another person or persons. Individuals should try this “to be certain that your action was perceived as offensive.”

Communicate your regret through an apology phrase that can be as simple as, “I am sorry I did this.” Even when you have already acknowledged your poor behavior, “the offended party needs to hear this.”

Say what you will do to rectify this situation in the future. You may unintentionally start to exhibit uncivil behavior again, which is why you must be sure to present the offended party with a solution, such as “If I revert to my old behavior, you may interrupt me and call it to my attention during a meeting.”

Casey Gale

Casey Gale is associate editor of Convene.