Toxic communication paralyses cooperation
If team members don’t dare to speak to each other, if they avoid conversations or if there is a lot of misunderstanding, then this can give rise to toxic communication. And as the term implies, the impact of this is serious. Toxic communication is destructive to teamwork. The team delivers less. Internationally certified team coach Angela van Dorssen talks about her daily practice.
In my work I see that toxic communication is extremely common in teams, especially when upcoming changes are involved. Toxic communication is very human. In fact, we all do it, all day long. It is an awkward expression of unspoken needs or emotions. Especially in a business environment we can find it difficult to say explicitly what we think and feel. We would rather sweep it under the carpet than face the discomfort. Relatable?
There are four forms of toxic communication: disdainful, stalling, accusatory, and defensive. They all have a negative effect on the mutual relationship and therefore on the cooperation. Team members are often not even aware of this. For example, gossiping or making sarcastic jokes. If you acknowledge and recognise toxic communication in time and make it a topic for discussion, the working atmosphere will improve enormously. People will dare to be vulnerable, have faith in each other and will be open to feedback.
Explicit communication as an antidote
If you let toxic communication go unchecked, sooner or later it will lead to conflict. It can result in mutual alienation, with people being excluded, feelings of insecurity and an increase in absenteeism due to illness. But above all, business results will lag behind. This is a real shame, because everyone wants to work in the best team possible.
During the team coaching, I teach team members to recognise toxic communication. Both from the individual and in the team. Then I teach them to take responsibility for their own impact in the team. After all, everyone contributes to cooperation. The manager has an extra responsibility because of his or her exemplary role. If you think it’s normal to talk about people, you implicitly give your team permission to do the same. I often use playful, interactive working methods, with the aim of getting real conversation on the table. The team learns to express itself explicitly about needs and emotions. And how to communicate that in an effective way. I then give the team tools – the antidote – to continue constructively with this. So that I am no longer needed. When I leave, communication has improved and team members hold each other accountable for toxic communication. For me, there is no better result
Connecting Energy article in InfoRegio Haarlemmermeer December 2020
(text: May-lisa de Laat /photo: Martine Goulmy)