Toxic people and what to do about them?

I’m a consultant. I love what I do and I’m pretty good at it with enough years of IT experience that I no longer have to pad my resume. :slight_smile: I even like this particular project and most people with whom I work, clients and fellow colleagues. I’m sure everyone knows how rarely that sort of thing happens in a lifetime.

But there’s this one guy. Yeah. You know him. A guy who is in a position of authority and whom you can’t avoid. The guy who brings nothing of value to the effort. The guy who talks endlessly about things he doesn’t understand, lacking in any self awareness of how completely absurd the things he says are, how they are often inappropriate for the context, how they serve to do the exact opposite of whatever the objective he is trying to achieve. He badgers, harangues, insults, and generally ruins any and every meeting he inserts himself into. He shamelessly ass kisses any superior who happens to be on the call. So much so that he’s been told, “Stop mentioning my name”, just to put a stop to the fawning and toadying. He lectures contract staff with years of knowledge and experience that he’ll never have, about things he’ll never understand. And when the meeting is over, he’ll call you directly and ask you, “Did you hear what I said during that meeting? Let me explain and repeat to you again what I said and why!” And then he does. Like you’re the idiot upon whom he’s bestowing his wisdom.

In the two years that I’ve worked with this jackass, he has brought absolutely nothing of value to any aspect of the project. He’s only made things worse. He has never done a days work. He is the Dunning-Krugger Effect incarnate.

As luck would have it. He is finally on very thin ice with his senior manager, two levels up. All it would take is for someone to walk into that senior director’s office and fill in some color to what is an already pretty stark picture of incompetence.

Where it that simple, you’d walk into his director’s office and put the final nails in his career coffin.

One mitigating factor in all this is that you know the guy is not right in the head. You understand that all this jackassery comes from very low self esteem, very high insecurity, very broken psychological profile that will probably be utterly crushed as a result.

You have every reason to see that he is removed from the project and any authority, forthwith. However, the very real risk is that it may end up costing you your job in the long run because doing this kind of thing never goes well for consultants.

Do you do it anyway? Or do you keep your yap shut and let the asshole continue to get away with it, in hopes he will ultimately self destruct?

Keep quiet. No matter how right you are, it never helps to be in the middle of that type of stuff.

The only way I’ve seen this type of thing resolved satisfactorily is for direct manager of that person to be engaged in the details working along with everyone on the project and both seeing the result and having to deal with trying to work through that persons short comings.

But, most places do not have managers that will get involved to the level required to see the impact on a project.

This is an important point. Unless you’re a management consultant hired to locate process errors and inefficiencies, this is outside your scope. You can be honest in your reporting to your primary customer in explaining your limitations and difficulties carrying out your contracted tasks, but you’re not really in the place to push the guy over the edge.

Really, that’s an internal team management issue. You’ve been hired to work with the team in place, not reshape it.

Unfortunately, his direct manager is an enabler. I think he secretly enjoys the train wreck and the ass kissing.

Oh dear, I’ve worked with that guy/gal a few times.

Based on my own experiences, wait until you are asked to bring up examples of him causing problems for others. However, do not hesitate to bring up any problems you’ve had if his behavior has caused delays or quality issues with your own work. If he is causing you to look bad by giving you wrong information, or by ignoring requests, you need to document the examples. However, be sure that you have explained your requests to him adequately and that he has a grasp of what you requested before you complain about it. Proof is key.

Don’t get in the middle unless you’re ready to leave the position. Some places it might be survivable, but in my experience office politics are not for the weak or squeamish. A manager of mine used to say, “if you stick your head up so that they* notice you, you’ll get shot.”
*Senior management, and he wasn’t wrong.


There is someone who reports to me that fits the exact description in the OP. I tried to get rid of him. I almost lost my job in doing so.

There’s a good chance nothing good will come your way if you try to get rid of this guy. As useless as he is, just humor him and ignore him the best you can.

I’m going to argue the conflicting view. I wouldn’t march into the senior’s office, but I’d be diplomatically honest if he asks your opinion. Not “the guy is incompetent”, but maybe “I’ve had a few challenges working with him” with a few details.

I work with IT consultants. If I suspect one of my staff is not doing a good job and ask a consultant their opinion, I’m going to think less of that consultant if they tell me it’s all sunshine and puppy dogs. The consultant works with them every day - how bad must the consultant suck if they don’t see my staff’s faults?

What will look bad is you advocating for getting rid of the guy. That’s none of your business. But you should provide info that lets the senior decide what to do. If you do that while still expressing willingness to work around the guy’s faults if that’s what the senior decides, I don’t think it will bite you.

He’s survived this long somehow, don’t assume he’ll go down easily. He either has some connection that keeps him there or the management is incompetent. Let nature take it’s course here.

I’ll never understand why workplaces don’t take toxic personalities more seriously when hiring or firing (although its hard to know when hiring someone if they are toxic).

In my personal life, I’ve met several toxic people. I usually just go no contact as much as possible. Feeding into their dysfunction (by fighting) just makes them stronger.

But in the workplace a toxic personality can destroy an entire team. Especially if they are a manager. And sadly in a lot of jobs those people never get fired, they just get moved to new positions.

Yeah, I think I’ll continue to keep my mouth shut and work around his bullshit. Today was especially difficult to do so as we sat through another of his verbal diarrhea-tribes. An associated contractor project team brought in a new team lead for their part of the project. The meeting was simply to introduce the new guy and welcome him. Should have taken no more than 15 minutes. But nooooo… Dunning-Krugger Effect started with a lecture on how the previous lead failed in her role and then proceeded to give him a job interview/interrogation about his core competencies and how he would be expected to comport himself on this project. All while half dozen or so of us sat listening to him embarrass himself. What puzzles me every time is that the senior management on the contracting team said nothing to him. Not, “Let’s take this off line”, or “Perhaps this is not the right forum for this conversation”. Nope. Stony silence from everyone while D-K waxed idiotic. Fuck me. :smack:

I’d be inclined to be formally polite to him, and document everything in case you are asked for input by upper management,
I would not want to start the ball rolling, but if asked, I’d give an honest (and documented) response.

He should be kicked upstairs. Make him the CEO! Or even make him President of the United States.

Oh wait… He already is.

Okay, my story: I had the supervisor like that once. He cause a lot of discord in the company, and tended to fuck up everything he touched. I (and a few others) got a lot of blame for that. I didn’t keep my mouth shut, and got in trouble for that too.

One day, I walked into the second (or third) guy up the ladder and gave him my 4-hour notice. I never regretted it.

Some months later, I began to hear some of the horror stories. I had a flunky kid who came in each evening to do the backups. When I quit, boss fired him promptly too. Fast forward six months or so: Some sort of major system crash. The computer engineer says he may need to re-format the disk. Boss says, sure go ahead, we have backups. So he re-formatted the disk.

Well surprise surprise. No backups to be found anywhere since the day I left.

The company was on the ropes already anyway, in part because management was that incompetent at every level all the way to the top. The company folded not long after that.

This won’t be the popular answer but stick the knife in and do what you can to get rid of the jerk.

Don’t tempt me.

It’s hard to be disciplined about documenting these events as they happen, but I’m going to start doing that. Questions will be asked. And when they are…

I keep quiet so long as I’m not asked directly. When asked directly, I present proof with minimum commentary.

I even had a project where Toxic Dude’s job description was “being toxic to the consultants.” They couldn’t understand why those of us who know where we stow our spines declined to renew.

I sometimes wonder if there is a law that every workplace has to hire the person nobody can stand. There always seems to be one.

My advice is to interact as little as possible and don’t take their criticisms seriously. Our resident idiot once told me I was sweeping the floor wrong and she was going to tell the store’s owner, who could fire me.

This. Especially the documentation part.

I worked with/for that kind of guy, and when things started to go south on the project, he tried to blame it on me. Fortunately I had every single email, test result spreadsheet, spec document, and milestone at my finger’s ends. I presented it, as Nava describes, with no commentary. Just “here is the signoff of the specs document, here is the test plan, here is my email notifying of the completion of coding and testing, here is the document of the before and after results of the tests, here is his email acknowledging receipt of the results, here is his email saying he owned the work plan documentation and would update it.”

This was in a meeting with senior management. They ended the meeting, and scheduled a follow up meeting the next morning at 7:00am. On my way to the meeting next morning, I noticed that his cube was dark and empty, and I never saw him again.


Do you have a sponsor within the Company, that you and your team report to? Give your feedback to that individual. That this person is disruptive, slowing down the process, and potentially impairing the success of the project. That way you’ve passed along the feedback, and let the sponsor deal with the corporate internal politics.