Beware the mean-spirited and nasty

Through many years of running businesses, I’ve unfortunately encountered some mean-spirited and nasty people. My recommendation is to recognize them for who they are and terminate the relationship as soon as possible.

Beware the mean-spirited and nasty by Nancy Knowlton

A couple of years ago Dave and I held a personal party in Calgary. We invited our family, long-time friends, the children of our friends and some work colleagues – about 140 people in total – to join us for dinner and dancing. At the start of the event Dave and I welcomed everyone and said that we hoped that they had a great time, just appreciating everyone attending and the food, wine and dancing. I said that there was no particular reason for the party – it was simply an opportunity for all of us to have fun. It turned out to be a wonderful night for us, and we enjoyed the whole experience.

Anonymous vitriol

The following Monday I received a note under my door at work. I sat down – good thing – and read what I can only describe as the most mean-spirited and nasty note that I could have imagined, all related to our party the prior weekend. Dave and I were criticized for several things, including selectively inviting company staff (it was suggested that this was not nice, given that this was alleged by the writer to be a company party) and being so silly as to say that it was a party celebrating really nothing. The note had much more, all negative and bitter.

Disturbing mindset

Who says things like this? Who takes the time to write a poison-pen letter about a party? Who attends a party hosted by a person or people they don’t like? I can’t say for sure that the writer attended the party, but I believe so from the things that were said. While the matter of a party is trivial, the nature of the note was not. It showed a deeply disturbing mindset, one the writer took pleasure in sharing in an anonymous note.

Overdose of negativity

I am generally a happy and positive person. I wake up happy and I have a positive outlook on the prospects for the day. But all of that positivity does not mean that I don’t recognize or experience mean-spirited and nasty people. Quite the contrary. I feel that I have overdosed on them through the years. The experience with the letter, while certainly negative, was not all that surprising. Some people are just programmed to be two-faced and duplicitous, some people are so unhappy that they are negative about just about everything and others just like to complain – but few take the time to go so far as the note writer.

Creating conflict and insecurity

I know that some people thrive on creating conflict and negative feelings within all of their social and work circles. They throw virtual hand grenades and literally rub their hands in glee as others deal with the trauma and fall out. They criticize anything and everyone and work people behind the scenes with the supposed objective of helping. Far from helping, they make people worry and feel insecure. They prey on people who take people at face value and don’t have a mean or conniving bone in their body. They manipulate, position and lie to do their nasty deeds.

Probing the nature of a person

The best advice I have is to never let these bad actors into a company. Hiring processes that test for fit with a team and culture are a good first step. Reference checks that probe for the nature of a person and how they did or did not add to an organization’s culture and performance can help keep the bad actors out. Recognize that companies and individuals are reluctant to give a current or former staff member a bad reference, but there are some discreet ways of getting the information. “Would you rehire?” is a great question to get the insight that is needed.

Chameleons at work

Unfortunately, these bad actors are chameleons and can reflect back what recruiters and team members are looking for. They are adept at reading people and matching stated needs. They fool companies and get by screening processes too often. Once in, they manipulate relationships with skill, and coworkers don’t recognize what is happening. They are often intelligent and that’s what makes finding them out hard.

Rooting out bad apples

When cultures are explicit and people know that these behaviors don’t have to be tolerated, the days of these mean-spirited and nasty people can be numbered. Nobody likes working with people who they can see are undermining the company and coworkers. Bad apples can and should be terminated quickly, literally as soon as they are discovered.

Don’t be surprised or sabotaged by mean-spirited and nasty people at work (or personally). They are a cancer that will eat away at people and culture. Deal with them quickly and ruthlessly. You and your company will be better off for the swift amputation.

Latest Posts

Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.