Let’s just start by saying that Rollercon 2016 was amazing! Thank you to everyone who attended my classes, and to everyone who attended in general.
I’ll be posting guides to all of the classes I led over the next few weeks. This post will zoom in on the one question that came up in 90% of the seminars I led or attended, including a skating class.
How do we work with the “toxic teammate(s)”?
Below are some of the strategies I’ve learned. There are no quick fixes to improving the health of your league; and a lot of the work will have to be done by the so-called “non-toxic” folks. Since toxic behavior is contagious, it’s safe to assume that everyone needs to check their behavior in order for things to improve.
Find out if the person is actually toxic, and what may be driving the toxic behavior
There is a difference between someone who is toxic, and someone who simply disagrees with you all the time. Find out where the disagreements are occurring. Are they legitimate, even if you don’t agree? It’s it the delivery, or the behavior driven by the differing point of view that’s messing up your team dynamic? Are you disagreeing with them just because you don’t like the person?
My wholly unscientific observations are that folks identified as “toxic” tend to fall in one of these categories:
- They are long standing members, or possibly founders of a league, who have been carrying a heavy load of league work for years and years, and have trouble giving up control of responsibilities or accepting new ideas, often have a clique of long standing, trusted teammates
- Folks who don’t have the most developed social skills, and/or are inexperienced in navigating diverse groups of strong willed people
- Folks who have very little experience expressing themselves in a constructive way
- People who are participating in derby to fulfill an exclusively personal need, and therefore are not driven toward teamwork of any kind
Conspire to Spread Healthy Communication
Guess what, friend. Most of the work in detoxing your league is going to be on you, the ostensibly well-adjusted teammate, rather than the toxic person(s). You’d better round up some allies to help.
Identify the people in your league who exhibit the kind of attitudes and behaviors that are healthy for the league. Even if they aren’t formal leaders, their presence in your “positivity contingent” will make a huge difference in shifting league culture. More often than not, the folks who are in a healthy place tend to avoid meddling in league drama, which is how they keep their sanity. Your job is to recruit them and encourage them to take more part in league interactions.
I realize that I used the word conspire, but I am not suggesting rounding up bodies and staging a coup. The idea is to demonstrate to others in the league, especially new people, that your organization is capable of doing things in a respectful and productive manner. Every positive interaction that a new skater gets from your league will instill their trust in your organization, making them more likely to get involved in league work, and to be a good teammate by placing the needs of the team above their own.
Adult skaters tend to come to derby with the assumption that everyone shares the same code of personal conduct; that “common sense” is the golden rule. This is a naive assumption. Set the tone of your league through positive reinforcement, rather than assuming that everyone should know better.
The more people you get on board with the practice of good communication, the more likely you will outnumber the toxic elements, forcing them to use healthier methods of working with your league.
Isolate Shit Behavior, But Don’t Isolate the Person
You cannot have a solid team or organization if you diminish any one person to being a scapegoat or a black sheep. If someone routinely exhibits crappy behavior that derails whatever you are trying to do, respond by only addressing the valid points, and don’t touch the crap.
I learned this tactic because it was used on me, when I would come to committee meetings, with many valid points that were loaded with personal malware. From that, I learned what behavior is “legal tender” that will get me what I need, and which passive-aggressive behaviors or comments are a total waste of my time. It also made me trust the person who reacted to me that way, because I saw that she was treating me fairly and with dignity, even on my bad days. Trust is the foundation to superb teamwork, on and off of the track.
If you think that your toxic league mate does not have any valid points, ever, you may need to consider if you are auto-disregarding them based on past experience, which is something you’ll want to clean up on YOUR side. Toxic people still have good contributions to make to the league, and the idea is to strain out the valuable pieces and give them credit where credit is due.
It is rare that there is a truly isolated person in a league, with zero friends. Sometimes, the toxicity lives in a group of skaters, who clique together. The same strategy applies; accumulate positive interactions with the most palatable members of the clique, using them as bridges to the more challenging people.
Don’t Be a Mixer
Toxic behavior is like cheap, nasty alcohol. When offered, very few people are willing to take that shot. Adding a mixer makes the taste more tolerable, but it doesn’t change the overall nastiness.
How many times have you witnessed a practice, meeting, or game day get derailed by a toxic behavior? It usually starts with one act of shitty behavior, but escalates because well-meaning people react like the “mixer”, forcing everyone to consume the nastiness.
Examples of being the mixer:
- Toxic person accuses you of shitty behavior, so you escalate by accusing THEM of shitty behavior
- Toxic person raises their voice, so you raise YOUR voice
- Toxic person starts to say something you disagree with, so you interrupt them because you already know that their idea sucks
- Toxic person spreads gossip behind your back to discredit you, so you gossip to your friends about how the toxic person is spreading falsehoods about you
See a pattern here? By being a mixer, you’re actually making toxic behavior more palatable to the league, and you are (unintentionally) sending a message to the league about what kind of behavior is the social currency.
It’s really, really difficult not to treat someone like an ass when they are acting like an ass. In fact, as I am writing this, I am recalling a handful of occasions THIS WEEK where I have been a mixer to toxicity.
If you’re truly interested in detoxing your league, you’ll do your part to end it.
What if your best friend was the toxic person? You would be more understanding about where they are coming from, right? Give that same credit to people who are not your closest comrades.
Be Open to Pleasant Surprises
This one is very important. Every positive interaction with a toxic person is a win, so you should get ’em when the gettin’ is good. The other person is also collecting positive experiences with you, which builds, then reinforces trust.
Let the people who have disappointed you in the past surprise you with the good stuff they bring to the present. Interact with them in different environments, which may bring out other sides of them that you haven’t met yet. Find their motivation for derby, find out why they love the things they love. Be a friend, even if you don’t get friendship back.
I’m not suggesting that you kiss any ones ass, but let your constructive behavior take up it’s due space in the relationship. Unlike friends, you can’t always choose your derby family, and connecting with your teammates will do more to win games than trying to get everyone to conform to your idea of the perfect teammate.
Are you still mad at someone for something that happened 2 years ago? Drop it. Put a statute of limitations on what shit behavior you judge a person for.
Do you let your friends off the hook then they fuck up? Stop it. Hold everyone accountable for their actions using the same set of criteria.
Most of all, remember that people join derby for a reason, and it is obviously not a tea party, but a roller coaster of an experience that fundamentally changes us. Part of being lucky enough to participate in such a demanding, yet rewarding sport is that you get to know all types of strong people who are in the midst of this change, and they will challenge you in so many unexpected ways.
Rise to the challenge, and your league will be great.