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How to recognize and stop toxic time-wasters

These are 3 types of conversations you don't want to encourage.

5 min read




Every workplace has a little drama, but knowing how to identify and stop drama is key to elevating your own productivity. 

The first step is to define the three toxic time-wasters: blindsiding, monopolizing, and negativity. The second step is to identify the common behaviors so that you can take charge of the situation. This article offers a description, a checklist and what to do if you get engaged with one of the top three toxic time-wasters.


Those who blindside use timing to their advantage, not to yours. For example, they smile before telling you something that sounds like vicious gossip, like you are the laughingstock of the office. They finish with “I just thought you needed to know.” Or they invite you to a friendly lunch but have a hidden agenda. For example, early in my career, I was invited to lunch by a friend who said he wanted to introduce me to someone who would benefit by some of my corporate training. The real intention was to get me into a network marketing downline.

A five-point checklist to identify blindsiding

  1. You are often caught off-guard by the conversation or the language.
  2. The other person discounts or belittles you.
  3. You don’t feel safe around this person.
  4. You don’t trust this person.
  5. The person gossips about others behind their backs.

What to do: Ask for the agenda before the conversation. If you are invited to a phone call or a lunch meeting, ask in advance, “What is our objective for the meeting?” Then at the phone call or meeting if you see the conversation heading in another direction, say this: “I thought our agenda was to discuss …” When caught off-guard, take a five-second pause and then question the intention of their statement. Take control of blindsiding by preparing in advance.


The Monopolizer is long winded and can’t get to his point.  You wonder if there’s an end to the story. Caller ID was created for those who want to avoid the Monopolizer. If you ask the Monopolizer a “yes or no” question, he starts out with “It depends,” and then goes into a 20-minute story before the story. You can yawn, you can tap your fingers but the Monopolizer is like the Energizer Bunny. He keeps going and going.

A five-point checklist to identify monopolizing

  1. You use caller ID to avoid this person.
  2. This person often wastes your time or interrupts your agenda.
  3. Your energy feels depleted after being in this person’s high energy.
  4. You’ve heard the same stories time and again.
  5. You can’t get in a word edgewise.

What to do: Before calling this person, say “I only have five minutes and I have a question that requires either a yes or no.” Also, set good boundaries when you are interrupted. Say, “I can’t talk right now. Can I call you back at 2? When you call back, model the behavior you want from them by saying, “Is this still a good time? Great, I only have five minutes, but …”

Good boundaries and setting appropriate expectations empower you and diminish your negative emotions toward this person.


Negative Nellie always has a complaint. Every conversation is about what is not working and what someone else did wrong. If you try to help solve the problem they defend the problem, telling you that you don’t understand, and they’ve already tried everything you have suggested. They make you feel obligated to listen when they say that venting helps them feel better.

A five-point checklist to identify negativity

  1. You know the problem inside and out.
  2. There’s never a win, only complaints.
  3. You feel drained being in this person’s presence.
  4. “I already know that” or “I’ve already tried that” is their mantra.
  5. Their problem has become their identity.

What to do: Stop feeding the beast. Don’t give advice, and don’t discount. Simply say, “I’m sorry. It sounds frustrating.” Avoid the urge to make it better or to listen more than five minutes.

The reality is that venting only creates new neuro-connections for the purpose of venting. Don’t fuel the fire by joining in, advising or discounting. When they are ready for solutions, you can coach them to empowerment, but if they are dead-set on beating the drum of their problems, you need to be one less band member.


Marlene Chism is a consultant, international speaker and the author of “Stop Workplace Drama” (Wiley 2011) and the author of “No-Drama Leadership (Bibliomotion 2015). Visit her website, and connect via LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

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