4x toxic behavior in relationships

Ask yourself this question:

  • Do you ever get defensive when criticized?
  • Have you ever been on a team where people gossiped?
  • Have you ever been ghosted by a colleague or friend?

(If you don’t know what ghosting is, scroll to the end of this blog)

If you recognize the above, then you have experience with the 4 toxins that harm relationships.

Toxic communication occurs in every relationship and is very NORMAL. Even in the workplace. The tools in this blog can give you as a leader, colleague or partner a language to name what is happening in the undercurrent. In this way you can prevent behavior that grows underground and disrupts the (work) relationship.

People in business attire fighting, paper flying through the air

For many decades, Dr. John Gottman has been researching relationships. With up to 90% certainty, he can predict whether a relationship will hold up over the long term.

His scientific research centers on the question, “What makes relationships work or not work? To do this, he looks primarily at how couples or team members communicate with each other, both verbally and nonverbally. He observes the dynamics and not the content.

Gottman's 4 destructive behaviors


Attacking someone personality or character, usually with the intent of making someone right and someone wrong.

Examples: generalizations

  • “you always…”,
  • “you never…”,
  • “you’re the type of person who…”,
  • “why are you so…”.


Seeing yourself as the victim, warding off a perceived attack.


  • Making excuses “it’s not my fault…”, “I didn’t…”
  • Disagreeing & cross-complaining: “That’s not true, you’re the one who…”, “I did this because you did that…”
  • Yes-butting: start off agreeing but end up disagreeing
  • Whining “it’s not fair”


Disrespecting someone in an attempt to hurt or insult them.


  • Insults and name-calling
  • Hostile humor, sarcasm or mockery
  • Body language & tone of voice: sneering, rolling your eyes, curling your upper lip


Withdrawing from the relationship as a way to avoid conflict


  • Silent treatment, monosyllabic mutterings
  • Changing the subject
  • Removing yourself physically

What is your favorite toxic behavior when you feel attacked?

Or do you have one or two favorite behaviors you recognize that you are guilty of? (And it’s normal for it to happen – what’s important is awareness, because then you can start doing something about it).

Personally, I’ve been guilty of throwing up a wall, ignoring mode, quite often. Or Stonewalling.

And how does this work in teams?
And why does this matter in the workplace?
What makes one team or relationship successful and another not?

For the last 2 decades, I have studied topics from psychology, leadership and coaching. I provide trainings to teams and coach individuals in executive coaching programs about these topics. Working with teams and organizations keeps me on my toes in what keeps people engaged in the workplace.

In particular, I find it interesting to work leaders. Today, something different is needed in leadership. Leadership from within, personal leadership through self-insight, being more aware of blind spots and taking accountability for your impact. If you want to read more about that and do a self-assessment, order the book Kom tot de Kern (only in Dutch) that I wrote for a publisher in 2019.


Team toxins

Back to the 4 destructive behaviors. These can also occur in working relationships with a colleague or in an entire team. They are therefore sometimes called the 4 team toxins.

These behaviors impair relationships. They undermine safety and mutual trust and erode the effective, respectful and appreciative workplace. And it spreads like wildfire, often underground.

Signs of team toxins

  1. Tasks and projects take longer
  2. Quality of work. Things are delivered incompletely or below expected standard – because if behavior affects our productivity, then you can start to expect worse results.
  3. Motivation, commitment and team spirit will suffer
  4. Destructive conflict will increase.
  5. And at its worst, stress will increase, absenteeism will increase and eventually the good people will leave.

So timely addressing these 4 team toxins is a MUST.

Getting started

Download the leaflet below and get to work with your team to discuss toxins.

Or do the assignment with your partner or in your friendship. Wishing you much inspiration!

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And for those who don’t know what ghosting is:

Ghosting is the abrupt termination of communication with someone without explanation.