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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

Dealing with toxic people and employees: 3 myths and 1 truth

We had an interesting monthly webinar playing out difficult communication scenarios. Here’s the replay if you missed it and welcome to Wise Wednesdays if you’re new! I was approached by a hedge fund investor this week. He’s experienced the power of coaching and wants to offer it to his fund managers so they can perform at their best. He sees self-care and performance as complementary and I couldn’t agree more. So many corporations are short-sighted and squeeze their staff for short-term gain while losing talent, innovation potential and institutional memory in the long term. [Read on or watch the video] I don’t normally work with hedge funds so I looked up the psychology of hedge funds and stumbled upon some research on whether remorseless people (psychopaths) make more money (I also discovered the hedge fund drama Billions)… One study looked at people with the dark triad (people who display psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism i.e. people who don’t feel guilt or empathy and will use lies and manipulative charm to get what they want) in relation to their work performance. Let’s call these psychopathic-narcissistic-Machiavellians toxic people for short. Here are a few myths and one truth about toxic people you may not know: 1) Toxic people make more money: Myth. They don’t. In fact comparing earnings over a year, toxic people made less. If you think of the uncalculated loss they cause because of their indirect impact on other people’s performance, they’re even more of a liability to their team. 2) Women are as bad as men: Myth. In fact, if you experience aggression at work it’s more likely to be from a male colleague and it’s probably because men are more likely to have the dark triad…The converse doesn’t hold i.e. feeling manipulated by someone through charm and lies isn’t something that you’re more likely to experience from a woman…(don’t hate the messenger! It’s the research!) But women seem to be catching up. 3) Toxic people are born that way or suffered in their childhood: Myth. Neither is true. Someone’s toxic behaviour is likely to be a combination of bad genes and upbringing that enables these inherited traits. Unfortunately, treatment success is limited although possible if they have enough self-awareness to ask for it. 4) Toxic people are more likely to reach positions of power: Unfortunately, this is true. The prevalence of toxic people in current organisational work cultures is higher among CEOs and the upper echelons of management. Tip: If you find toxic people disheartening, remember to always look for 5 positive role models (anywhere you can find them) for every negative one – it will balance your perspective. Throughout our human evolution, the Dark Triad has had an evolutionary advantage for obvious reasons and it has some advantage in our current work culture (although not if you want to make money). But if that’s true, what does that say about the work culture itself? “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke / John F Kennedy I believe leaders need to take a tougher stance against toxic behaviours and reform toxic work culture appropriately (more on that next week). Sure, it’s a long term goal and in the meantime: focus on you and what you want. Almost none of my clients use their coaching to deal with toxic people situations. It’s not because they don’t have to deal with them but because coaching is about simplicity and clarity. I help them get clear on what they want and take action. The toxic person becomes irrelevant. A source of learning at worst. I’d say you can take heart in the fact that every time you break the spell of a toxic person and focus on you, the world is a slightly better place. Toxic power is no match to the compassionate ruthlessness of clarity and decisive action.

Have a great week,


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Dr Amina Aitsi-Selmi is an international Career and Leadership Consultant and Coach. If you'd like help breaking out of a toxic work culture and growing your influence, affluence and leadership impact authentically, let's have a conversation. Book at

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