Women & Leadership Australia eNewsletter

May 2010


Book review: Surviving the Toxic Workplace: Protect Yourself Against Coworkers, Bosses, and Work Environments That Poison Your Day

Surviving the Toxic WorkplaceBook author: Linnda Durre

Publisher: McGraw-Hill Australia


Two and a half thousand years ago, Confucius profoundly offered, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”.

Just one problem: what to do when that job involves you sitting next to a truly toxic worker.

Whilst Linnda Durré might choose her words carefully as a psychotherapist, as an author she holds no bars.

In Surviving the Toxic Workplace, she seems to have no hesitation describing certain workplace characters as everything from toxic to outright crazy.

Replete with dozens of examples of bad people, Surviving the Toxic Workplace makes for totally enjoyable reading. Indeed, it’s likely that most of us have at least once come face-to-face with a colleague who’s just outright difficult to work with.

Linnda Durré brings to the table a keen knack for identifying the multitude of toxic personalities. By her estimation, there are no less than 12 types. They range from the socially clueless to the politically incorrect, from saboteurs to obsessives.

For each of these 12, she then identifies a host of sub-types. For example, in considering ‘the Uncommitted’, Durré separates out four sub-types: the Rock Star/Actor, the Day-job Worker, the Sloth and the Avoider.

Dedicated to detail, Durré then spells out for each sub-type three things: the (likely) situation that one might be enduring under this toxic worker, the explanation and the solution.

The explanations are in themselves a study in behavioural psychology. For example, the Fighter – the worker who kicks his rubbish bin and yells at everyone – is described as possibly an abused child who grew up in an atmosphere of conflict.

Linnda Durré’s solutions are generally couched in the ‘Sandwich’ technique: start with a compliment, then offer the critical feedback, then finish on a high note.

For some of the toxic types that Linnda Durré describes, this tactic could feasibly work. Paradoxically, toxic people at the most aggressive end of the spectrum might respond well to an opening compliment that flatters their (ultimately) fragile egos.

Other authors, more recently, have offered revisions to the popular ‘Sandwich’ technique. In How to Tell Anyone Anything (2009; read our review), Richard Gallagher suggests a more sophisticated approach, especially as the ‘Sandwich’ technique can come across as insincere, and therefore backfire.

There was, however, one important aspect of the ‘toxic worker’ equation largely missing in the book: why is it that some workplaces are more toxic than others? There is a definite failing of the author to seriously tackle the ways that whole workplaces can become toxic, sapping up good will, spitting out decent players and fertilising the worst behaviours that multiply and become the norm.

In most respects, though,Surviving the Toxic Workplace is an accomplished book on the subject. The book should find a wide audience amongst those of us going crazy because that perfect job has caused them to run home and scream, “That person is killing me!”



By Ben Zipper, Editor, Women & Leadership Australia eNewsletter


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