Via Gus Van Horn I ran across this interesting article about detecting and dealing with toxic customers. While I've dealt with my share of this sort of thing in my work life, what I find most interesting is that I run across huge numbers of people with precisely this kind of toxicity in their interpersonal dealings, particularly online.
I need to think about it some more, but offhand I'd have to say that it all seems to originate in the article's point #4: unrealistic expectations. I think that's the biggest, brightest, and easiest-to-detect warning sign of toxicity in a person, and it seems to be pretty darn universal. So the solution is that when somebody starts complaining or asking for things you don't intend to provide, do not bend over backwards for them.
This isn't the same as being a jerk and just refusing all requests. Someone with realistic expectations and respect for you will articulate a reason as to why you should deviate from your course in order to help them out. Things like, "I'm terribly sorry, but I hurt my back yesterday and I just can't get this ladder down off the shelf . . ." or "I only have 40 minutes so could we do the ones I need first?"
The other good thing to note is that a non-toxic person will learn as much as possible from the general information you have available before asking questions. It's a terrible red flag for me when I'm playing Dungeons and Dragons Online, have a quest posted in the Looking for More panel, and when someone joins the group the very first thing they ask is something they could determine for themselves by looking at the panel. "What quest are you doing?" "Are you in progress?" "What difficulty?" "How long have you been in the quest?" Now, I'll grant you, when I've got a group going and we switch between quests, sometimes I do forget to update which quest is the current quest. If you're an experienced player, though, you can still tell by looking at the location listed for the party members.
The sad part is that toxic people are not always bad people. Some of them are very nice, it's just that they are so befuddled and their skills for dealing with that befuddlement are so poor that there's just no profit for you of any kind in even attempting to deal with them.
Which leads to one last point. The most valuable skill anyone can cultivate is to learn how to un-befuddle yourself. You can know absolutely NOTHING about the task at hand and still be manage a valuable contribution if you grasp a method of fixing that problem rather than flailing about wildly and attempting to dump your issues onto whoever is closest. Or, if worse comes to worst, you can maintain enough self-awareness to say "sorry, I'm too far out of my depth here" and get out of the way.
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