Since conflict in organizations is inevitable, it’s likely that most of us have lent an open ear to a venting colleague from time to time. Those of us with a knack for conflict management, however, may have adapted this skill into our daily role and routine. Enter what HBR calls the “toxic handler.”

Toxic handlers can be defined as those who “voluntarily shoulder the sadness, frustration, bitterness and anger that are endemic to organizational life.” And while handlers tend to enjoy this position, over time they can become stressed, burnt out and bitter, carrying others’ burdens while focusing minimally on themselves.

Are You a Toxic Handler?

According to HBR, you may be a toxic handler if you answer “yes” to four or more of the following questions:

  • Are you working in an organization characterized by change, dysfunction or politics?
  • Are you working in a role that spans different groups or levels?
  • Do you spend a lot of time listening and advising colleagues at work?
  • Do people come to you to unload their worries, emotions, secrets or workplace problems?
  • Do you have a hard time saying no to colleagues?
  • Do you spend time behind the scenes, managing politics so others are protected?
  • Do you tend to mediate communication between a toxic team member and others?
  • Do you see yourself as a counselor, mediator or peacemaker in your office?

So You’re a Handler. Now what?

Your role as a toxic handler only needs “fixing” if it’s causing you strain in your position. Indications might be physical (i.e fatigue, headaches,) or mental (i.e. burnout, a short-fuse.) If you are struggling with this, here are some methods to try:

  • Pick and Choose: Your positive impact will be stronger if you can choose to mediate certain situations, and let others go. Ask yourself: Who is likely to be okay without my help? Where have I not been able to make a dent, despite my best efforts? Let these go.
  • Release Guilt: Remind yourself that saying yes to one thing necessarily means that you can commit less to projects and people you’ve already taken on. And remember that conflicts are often better solved by the parties directly involved.
  • Say No: There’s a way to respectfully walk away from a situation that feels stressful. Convey empathy, explain why you are unable to get involved and consider offering the venter an alternative form of support.