Perseverating on toxic relationships

I like the word perseverate. Jason at the Thoughtful Animal used it last week on a great post about the infant perseverative error, and it got me on a perseverating kick. Perseverating about perseverating, if you will.

A grad student and I were just talking about toxic relationships in our department, so today I’m perseverating about toxic relationships. In our personal lives. In our professional lives. I’ve witnessed them on all fronts, and it’s almost always best when they’re ended. Especially in a professional setting, which often yields negative outcomes for all involved, including bystanders of the kerfuffle (another great word, which evidently only bloggers use).

Interestingly, rebuffed students/postdocs that I’ve known often admired mentors in the department who themselves were considered difficult by some of their own progeny. What was the deal? Was it a situation of “the grass is always greener”? Maybe in part, but I think it also had to do a LOT with the difficulty of certain personality types to work well together. An especially stubborn postdoc, for example, may have a very hard time with a micromanaging PI. An outspoken PI can make life miserable for a soft-spoken student.

Perseverance can overcome many challenges in a conflicted relationship, but either or both parties may be unable or unwilling to put forth the necessary effort. In these cases, I think it’s better to end the relationship. As much as I miss a couple of our department’s recently departed scientists, I was happy to see them leave. The stress of their toxic professional relationships had spilled over into other labs and made the department a difficult place to work… for a time at least.

What do you think? Can a toxic relationship be mended? Or are they always doomed to go up in flames, sometimes taking others with them?


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