In terms of pure definition, an alliance is an agreement, partnership, or connection. Stand those words next to toxic, and you have a dangerous alliance, a poisonous connection, or a deadly agreement. That understanding alone should be motivation enough to pull toxic influences from your life!

What this really means is that sometimes we must pull people from our lives. I do not say that flippantly. It can be difficult and painful to end a relationship. What is even worse is allowing a relationship—even a long-term one—to derail you, incapacitate you, or steal your credibility and your joy.

While we may not purposefully align or partner with toxic people, we do that when we passively accept or participate in their behavior. When we don't remove ourselves from the situation or confront the behavior, we endorse it by default. (This can be one of those "it's not what you say or do; it's what you don't say or do" scenarios.)

When you get right down to it, there are basically two groups of people in the world. In the first group are people who encourage and believe in you. They add something to you. When you leave their presence you feel better. You are more confident, more prepared, and equipped. These people export hope!

The second group I call vampire people, because they suck the life out of everything and everyone they touch! You can almost hear the giant vacuum fire up when they walk into a room. These people are absolutely miserable, they love company, and they are constantly recruiting members. (By the way, membership is not free. It will cost you more than you can imagine.)

In the workplace, toxic alliances are co-workers who constantly draw others into negative conversations. They are the ones who want to argue incessantly and debate trivial points. (They swat at gnats while elephants stomp all over them.) These people draw energy (and attention) from gossip, criticism, arguing, and whining. They terrorize meetings, projects, and teams. They aren't just connected to the rumor mill—they manage it!

You know the type; they are famous for throwing rocks to get everyone stirred up, innocently hiding their hands and standing back to watch the show. (At this point, faces and names may be flashing before your eyes!)

In our personal and professional lives, toxic people are colleagues, friends, and family members who criticize, attack, and divide. They are often masters of the dig. They don't really come right out and say things; they insinuate them and leave you wondering, "What did that mean?" They use sarcasm like a precision tool to push your buttons and enjoy holding up your weaknesses for the world to see. They twist the truth with amazing skill until it is unrecognizable. Quite often, toxic behavior crosses the line of integrity and becomes unethical behavior.

We don't pick our family, right? That is probably true for co-workers and colleagues as well. We don't always get to choose whom we work with or for. We do control how we interact with the people in our personal and professional lives. We control our boundaries and our scripts. We control access to our hot buttons!

Ask yourself these questions to see if you have a toxic relationship poisoning the soil of your heart:

  • Is there anyone planting negative, critical beliefs into your life right now? When you are with this person, how do you feel?
  • Is there a relationship in your life that is pulling you backward, blocking your growth, and undermining your progress? What is that costing you?
  • Is there a relationship marked by broken trust, unresolved conflict, and destructive communication? How much of your strength are you giving to this?
  • Is there someone in your life who compromises your boundaries or ethics? What impact is that having?
  • Are there behaviors you are passively endorsing to avoid conflict? What do you risk with your silence?

Questions like these allow you to step back and assess the situation. At the same time, you will want to consider your role. How are you enabling or perpetuating the toxic pattern? And if you really want to do some soul searching, ask yourself this tough question: What is the payoff? What do you gain from this toxic relationship? (Or what will you give up if the situation improves?) You may be surprised by your answers here.