Toxins as Relationship-Killers

Mike McDougall
Mike McDougall

First came the headache, then the chills. After trudging through a conference call, it was time to admit defeat. That mystery virus spreading across the office had claimed another victim. The only thing left to do was retreat home and collapse into bed.

It was dark when the phone began to buzz and glow. I grabbed it to see that a business associate had left a message, plus three or four emails on the same topic just to make sure I understood the urgency of the request.

Like the virus running through my bloodstream, my instinct to immediately respond had become toxic. Yet the truly urgent matter at hand was getting my health back to a point where I could function. The call would have to wait; sleep was calling on the other line.

Waking a few hours later, I asked myself what other toxins typically invade professional relationships, putting work-life balance at risk. Three emerged, with a vengeance. Here’s how PR pros can navigate them.

Promising too much. We make our living as part of a service industry. What we offer to colleagues and clients is limited only by capability and capacity. As much as we’re aware of our own capabilities, too often we fail on the capacity front; in other words, how much time a project or program will consume. The result is carving out nights, weekends and more to get the job done, rushing to the next task at hand and never pausing to reconcile what was promised with the true cost of delivery.

Always saying yes. I tell my team that we never want to say no, but that’s not a guarantee that we won’t. Sure, you always want to be a collaborator; the good lieutenant who finds a way to get things done. But that comes at an expense in the form of considerable stress, solving for both the challenging and the near impossible. The more often you acquiesce the more it becomes an expectation from others in the relationship (versus a welcome surprise).

Losing sight of others. Remember that first love back in junior high school, the one who consumed your every waking (and probably sleeping) moment? Now hit the fast forward button. Who’s taken on the same role in your professional life, with the raging hormones replaced by an endless stream of platonic phone calls? In all likelihood, you have inadvertently lost sight of others in your life, as this relationship became more consuming. Ease off just a bit, and reconnect with those who matter most.

Just like a virus, relationship toxins can’t be quickly eradicated once they’re in your brain; however, they’re susceptible to inoculation. Once you know they exist, you can build natural defenses to prevent them from taking root in the future. In doing so, you may edge just a little closer to finding some balance in your life.


Mike McDougall is president of McDougall Communications. He can be reached at: Follow him on Twitter, @McDougallPR

This article originally appeared in the February 23, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.