As human beings we all have moments when we feel overwhelmed or perhaps slighted.  This is normal and healthy and a positive as it is proof you are paying attention to your own life.  But there is a line, and it is not a fine one, between venting and being toxic.  Toxic behavior obviously impacts the team, and obviously impacts you if you are the source.

The difference between being toxic or just plain venting and blowing off steam is easy to determine.  Venting is brief and there is an immediate shift in how you feel once you complete your vent.  Venting is triggered by a specific event.  Venting usually has a compact timeline, as in, incident, internalizing, venting, moving on.  And if you can read people, they don’t shudder when they know you are about to vent, meaning you are not spewing your negativity all over them, your are instead just processing.

In contrast, toxic behavior is ongoing, full throttle, spewing negativity and is often accompanied by the thought that everyone is never going to be as good as you and/or as you need them to be.  This pattern is often accompanied by the feeling that you are the only one that can do things right.  While we don’t go to work to make friends we do have professional peers.  An indicator that you may be toxic is if your professional network of support is either limited or non-existent.  Basically, does anyone want to be around you if they don’t have to?  Do your professional peers find value in interacting with you?

Venting is healthy, being toxic is not.  Bottom line, toxic behavior is just that, a behavior.  It is a choice and you can decide to re-route the patterns and thought processes leading you down the path.  Chances are we have all been toxic at some point.  I’ve stood on the edge of it myself recently.  Fortunately for me I had a peer to vent to, and he had the good humor to listen and advise that if we could bring blanket forts into the workplace we would all be happier.  Perfect example of venting, re-routing and moving on!

There is a dynamic that makes it hard to move on from a vent.  When the workplace, not just a single person becomes toxic.  That is another story for another day.  But until then, build and reside in your mental blanket fort and start your pro/con list of staying or going.