What does "toxic" mean?

Benno Maggi explains in his column "What does... actually mean?" terms from the field of marketing and communication. This time he shares his thoughts on the term "toxic".


How we had missed it after all the months of home office: the exchange with others in the office, the breakfast, lunch, apero and after-hours sessions with real people in real places. And no sooner is all this allowed back in full force than human relationships begin to develop and with them their negative effects. There is bitching about everything and everyone. The bad mix of characters, skills, ways of working and team compositions are becoming a topic again and now also have a name: toxic.

Toxic can be anything: the corporate culture, the management style, employees, team players, customers or everything together. The little word means either "toxic" or "caused by poison", on the relationship level "very malicious", "dangerous", "harmful" or "demoralizing in behavior and action".

Mutual grudges instead of motivation

Agreed, human relationships are complex: in the business context almost as much as in the family. In general, there are five toxic types that we all know: Pessimist*, Gossip Reporter*, Procrastinator*, Know-it-all*, Solo Fighter*. Unfortunately, such types are not as obviously recognizable as the advisor named Tullius Destructivus in the comic book "Controversy over Asterix" by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo blessedly. Destructivus was set upon the indomitable Gauls because he possessed the talent of poisoning everything through his communication. As a reading aid, the authors colored his speech bubbles a nasty green, which was unmistakable to all.

Unfortunately, in many places, tactics, manipulation and intrigue are currently being practiced and promoted again - not as obviously as in the comic - instead of cultivating communication that is characterized by respect, openness, helpfulness, loyalty and solidarity.

How easy it was in isolation, when the body language of others could not be decoded and gifs were only possible in parallel chats. By pressing the leave or cancel button, meetings with others could be ended. So you didn't have to make the endless walk to the door or to the elevator or make small talk with the meeting participants at the coffee machine. In this way, there was no risk of subsequently poisoning the atmosphere in the team or the relationship with the customer.

Benno Maggi is co-founder and CEO of Partner & Partner. He has been eavesdropping on the industry for over 30 years, discovering words and terms for us that can either be used for small talk, pomposity, excitement, playing Scrabble or just because.

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