Your toxic low performer and how to deal with it

Suddenly  I have received a call from a friend of mine who asked me to help him with firing a low performer.  Because here in  Bulgaria legislation is mostly oriented to the employee and protects employees toward most of the employers’ needs and understandings I asked carefully if he wants to go that way.  The answer was:

“I tried everything I can think of – meetings,  feedback, yelling at the person,  showing anger,  cutting bonuses, etc. Nothing worked and this person is still intoxicating my team performance. I have to do something. So  I decided to fire that person. Are you going to help me or what? ”

I agreed to step in the process,  not because I wanted to fire the person, but because I wanted to learn more about both- my friend and that toxic person behavior(I am a psychologist by education and love to explore people’s reactions).

What I saw was an environment that was toxic for everyone.  My friend and her toxic colleague yelled blaming each other about the challenging situations.  The person was toxic – comfortably forgetting some details of their work,  blaming everyone and everything about failures,  searching for guilty people in every situation,  showing itself as the victim.

But my friend –  a person with a high understanding of morale and ethical standards reacted emotionally to that behavior.  She always responded in a high voice,  without listening to the toxic person position.  Her responses were energetic and accusing and that caused even higher levels of stress and made the toxic person reactions more negative.

I spend one whole day with them, but it was enough to understand the situation.  At the end of the day, my friend and I walked into a quiet room and she asked me directly what I think and does this person deserves a second chance.  We also commented on how she will love to fire the person and find someone else who can join the team and become a valuable team member, accepted by others and not causing any stressful situations.

I asked her what has she tried to do with that person to cause this emotionally heavy situation of distress at the workplace.  The answer was: “Nothing different than the person.  When it reacted emotionally  and blaming others I responded the same way pointing on her, to  show the person that  she is not right.”

I needed an hour and a half to explain what this behavior style has caused and then we agreed to change the tactics for two weeks.  If that didn’t succeed then I would have helped my friend to fire the person. Here are the steps we structured:

Aware yourself on what  their responsibilities are

Emotionally distressed people deny doing work that is not their main responsibility.  Before continuing with the talk why should they do what is asked from them check if they have this responsibility assigned,  according to an official document –  labor contract,  job description, etc?

Read the documents

One of the behaviors toxic people often show is denial to do work assigned to them.  To prepare your position and overcome that obstacle,  read the official files you have signed with them to check if what you expect is a written responsibility.  If not clearly defined, the toxic person will know it clearly and will use it in its defense. If you have the denied to be brought to end responsibility written and confirmed as a responsibility then you are good to continue,  if not,  you should not try to add it to the person’s responsibilities until you don’t calm it down.

Listen before you  speak

Toxic persons have in their arsenal a lot of tools for blaming others, processes, environment, etc.  If you react to the first thing they say you are powering a negative situation.  Don’t say anything, just listen, thank them and come with your position later, after you have checked the information.  Toxic employees are full of emotions people who don’t speak every time.  You will need to invest time to understand and check what they have told you and they come with a working answer. 

Do not blame, logically  lead to  the truth

When having a challenging situation with a toxic person emotions rise quickly. Your main task is to push them down.  If you show emotions you re-charge the toxic person energy to continue.  For example, if you have assigned a task and it was not completed do not blame or accuse the person of not completing it,  but try to lead him or her through the way you think and help understand your logic and how the not completed task, affects others.

Do not share responsibility

When dealing with a toxic person you often want to finish the tasks you have assigned by yourself,  just to save time and get better results.  This is a huge mistake, because while doing that you deliver results, but move the focus of the task from the person responsible to you.  The next time, when you  get in the same or similar situation,  you  will still need to  do it by  yourself and the toxic person excuse will become: “He/she took it from me, so it is not  my  responsibility.” What you need to do here is to focus on showing that no matter the situation or emotions that arise the tasks assigned have their owner and you, as someone assigning them tasks and responsibilities is waiting for the final results.

Do not get emotional

While dealing with a toxic person be ready with facts.  When pointing on emotions you will always get responses for accusing someone else and even you in creating the current situation.  While trying to deal with such type of person you need information about situations, actions and how these actions have affected other people’s behavior and productivity.  That is why you will need to prepare,  by writing down in detail the situations that may have arisen as a result of the toxic person’s behavior and actions.

Give balanced feedback

The temptation we all live with is to answer the same way we have been threatened.  Work on your self-control. Do not give any chances to be hurt, or blamed by the toxic person.  While it speaks, stay quiet and listen.  Let time to calm down and then chose the right moment to speak.  What you have to show is a consistent action plan for delivering feedback. Be kind and polite and explain situations and actions, by trying to  build understanding in the toxic person and accountability  trough  ensuring the change in his/her behavior and performance

Prepare the ground for replacement

The above steps are giving some time to build your strategy.  In most cases, toxic people are not bad persons, but people who just don’t fit the environment and culture your team operates.  Think of a way to reduce the negative pressure they create.  There are different ways you can do that.  For example, you can offer a change in roles and responsibilities, changing teams or even thinking to let the toxic person go.  Whatever you think of you will need to be sure of your final decision and build your strategy toward it.  If the role, the toxic person is crucial for the team success you may need to replace him or her,  but if the role is supporting,  you may only need to rearrange the responsibilities, to lower the level of negative impact.

If going with  asking the person to leave

Firing someone is an emotional moment for both – you and the person.  The steps above apply to that situation, but what you must work on is your attitude.  Toxic people,  as I said before are feeding themselves from the negative energy and non-comfortability they create.  Going that path means that you will need to calm yourself,  collect the facts and prepare the end of the relationship following the laws and recommendations in your country. Nothing less or more.  No feelings,  Just straight loci and focused talks pointing on actions and effects instead of the person itself.


The toxic person experience is one of the worst your team must live with.  Managing it is your job as a leader.  And while managing the toxic relationship you will also need to keep other team members engaged and accountable, by showing them that your actions follow company standards and values.  That will positively work for your positioning, will strengthen your team and build a higher level of loyalty and accountability to the work challenges.


2 thoughts on “Your toxic low performer and how to deal with it”

  1. Good post. I learn something new and challenging on sites I stumbleupon everyday. It’s always useful to read articles from other authors and practice a little something from their websites.


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