A Buddhist Monk’s Strategy For Dealing With Toxic People

By Griselda Togobo

I had the privilege of hearing Haemin Sumin speak at the BBC Freethinking Festival in Gateshead. A lady in the audience asked him about dealing with toxic people at work and his response is one that I feel we can all benefit from.

He told the story of walking in the park and coming across a lovely white adorable puppy. The puppy is so cute that you want to stroke it, so you reach out to give it a cuddle. Immediately the dog starts to bark. This cute puppy is no longer cute. It looks mean and dangerous and so you decide not to give it a cuddle. You turn to walk away but then notice that the puppy was barking because it was caught in a trap! It was bleeding and hurt, that’s why it was barking and not because it didn’t like you.

He then went on to explain that most toxic people are dealing with some kind of challenge or hurt which is driving their behaviour. Thinking about them this way helps us to empathise with them and also not to take their toxic actions seriously; it says more about them, than it says about us.

So if you work with a toxic colleague, clients or in an environment where people tend to lash out for no reason, just bear in mind that they may be wounded.

So what’s the practical application of this in the workplace of the lady once she was told this tale?

Avoid toxic people if you can – they are wounded and will lash out at anyone who comes too close. If you can’t avoid them, then learn to set boundaries that will enable you to maintain an emotional distance from these people.

Let’s hear from you. How do you manage toxic people and what strategies have you used to cope?


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  • What I'd be interested to know is; what happens if you do everything you possibly can to understand their challenge or hurt, yet they continue to be toxic or refuse to acknowledge the issue lays at their feet? How do you then manage their behaviour and the impact it has on the rest of the team? I've been there, done that and it was too long and too damaging a process to the business because I tried to accept and understand that we all have personal challenges to deal with, it also cost me financially to bring someone into the business to try help them through their issue as I had belief in them that they could work through it... yet it wasn't too be so it cost me time (a lot of it personally) along with emotional and financial investment.

  • Griselda says:

    Hi Katrina, you can't change people. You can only do your best to help. If your best doesn't change the person then you simply need to advice yourself and love them from a distance. It's tough when it's a small business but it is your business after all. You need to do what's best for you and the business. All the best with it.

  • I think you have to balance trying to help someone with the logic that it's simply not your speciality, and as the experts say, people can't be helped until they themselves realise that they need some professional help. Often it's best to avoid if you can, and often they just have to go - so help them go. I will always believe in being kind, but not emotionally involved.

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