Dealing with Toxicity in a Group

Have you ever been in a group where one person in particular was having a toxic affect on the rest?  Maybe that person is dominating the conversational flow, or perhaps radiates some toxic emotion like anger, or is a source of invidious gossip or backbiting.

What do you do?  Do you do anything?

If you don’t do anything, then your experience and quite possibly that of everyone else in the group is going to be degraded.  If the experience is bad enough, you may find the persons whose company you enjoy most are leaving the group.  If you take your concerns to others in the group, then your comments may make their way back to the person in question, but probably not in the way you intended.

A couple of scriptures may help us out here.  Proverbs 25:9, Debate your cause with your neighbor himself, and discover not a secret to another, and Matthew 18:15-17, 15“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. 16But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. 17If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector. (New Living Translation)

This is admittedly a difficult thing to do, to confront the offending person with the things that are bothering you.  But in my experience it usually pays big dividends.  The trick for me is to write a letter first that tries to describe my issue without giving offense.  Then I’ll sleep on it for a night.  I may ask someone I trust to read it and give me their impression of the letter and the reaction it might provoke.  Then I’ll rewrite it if necessary.

After writing the letter I will share it with the person and ask if we can talk about it afterward.  If the person disagrees with me, or thinks I’m the problem, I’ll then ask for a third person in the group to weigh in on the issue.  Then lastly if there is still no resolution, I will bring it before the group and ask them to decide.  If the group decides against the person, and the person is unwilling to change, then I think you need to resort to ostracism in order to preserve the integrity of the group.

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