What's so toxic about the toxic genius? (To help them grow, you must be able to answer that question.)

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What’s so toxic about the toxic genius?

When your technical hero brings down your team’s morale, you have to step in as a leader.

Often, they may believe that their “backbone” is crucial to the success as a team. They’re willing to change to help the team, but they don’t know what that change needs to look like.

To give the kind of feedback that offers hope to improve, describe the toxic behavior in specific, observable terms.

Don’t characterize the behavior with words like

❌ Rude
❌ Condescending
❌ Overbearing
❌ Disrespectful
❌ Ridiculing
❌ Insulting

Instead, highlight specific behaviors. Look for

✅ The use of specific inflammatory words or phrases, such as “idiot” or “shameful” or “I can’t believe…”
✅ Body language such as crossed arms, scowls, eye rolls, hand/arm gestures, standing, sitting, face-to-face proximity
✅ Changes in the voice’s volume, tempo, articulation
✅ Patterns of absence in conversations or excluding people from invitations
✅ Assigning blame to people more than processes
✅ Expressing astonishment when someone else does not know something

Then invite them to suggest alternative behaviors to get the results they’re after.

Most people don’t intentionally harm others. Your toxic genius probably wants to make the team and the workplace better.

Your focus on observable behavior will help them make those improvements.

For more help, see the Self-Coaching Questions for the Toxic Genius.

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