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#10 - Toxic behaviour in different positions - customer/service provider

Toxic behaviour can occur anywhere - in every conceivable relationship and constellation. In the area of customers and service providers, it is important that employees are trained to recognise the behaviour and take appropriate measures so as not to put unnecessary strain on business relationships, but to go straight to the solution. These relationships are not insignificant for the success of the company in question and should therefore be handled with sensitivity in the event of potential conflicts. Industries are usually clearly organised, everyone knows everyone else and long-term business relationships are often essential.

How can toxic behaviour manifest itself in customers or service providers?

Toxic behaviour on the part of a customer or service provider can manifest itself externally as follows:

1. Aggressive behaviour: Shouting, threatening or insulting behaviour could be an expression of aggression.

2. Passive aggression: Instead of communicating directly, customers or service providers could act by ignoring messages, deliberately being late or acting unprofessionally.

3. Excessive demands: Excessively high expectations or unrealistic demands that are outside the agreed scope can lead to difficult situations. On the other hand, a service provider could demand unreasonably high prices or impose unfair conditions - possibly even after the contract has been concluded.

4. Manipulation: Customers or service providers may try to manipulate the other party in order to maximise their own benefit, for example by lying, distorting facts or exploiting power relationships.

5. Lack of respect: Toxic behaviour can also manifest itself through a lack of respect, be it through derogatory remarks, disrespectful behaviour or ignoring boundaries and personal space.

6. Unreliability: A service provider could be unreliable by repeatedly postponing deadlines, not delivering on time or not honouring promises. A customer might constantly change requirements or delay payments.

7. Apportioning blame: Instead of taking responsibility, they might try to shift blame to the other party and portray themselves as the victim.

Toxic behaviour in customer-service provider relationships is not only negative for the immediate parties involved, but also affects the working environment and productivity of all parties. It is therefore important to take appropriate measures to deal with toxic behaviour and maintain a healthy working relationship.

What could be the background to this behaviour at the customer or service provider?

As always, people and personalities interact with each other, so everyone brings their own backgrounds that lead them to toxic behaviour. These can include or relate to the following topics, among others:

1. Personal problems: For example, stress, anxiety, depression or other mental health issues are included here.

2. Unfavourable past experiences: For example, negative experiences with other business partners could lead to a general lack of trust.

3. Lack of social skills: Some people have difficulty communicating appropriately with others or resolving conflicts. If someone does not know how to express their needs and concerns in a positive way, this can lead to toxic behaviour.

4. Unhealthy work environment: An unhealthy work environment where aggression or manipulation is tolerated or even encouraged can reinforce toxic behaviour in customers or service providers.

5. Power imbalance: An imbalance in the distribution of power between customers and service providers can lead to toxic behaviour. Clients and service providers who feel in a superior position may abuse their power to dominate or control others.

6. Inadequate communication and conflict resolution skills

7. Cultural or social influences: Cultural or social norms may encourage or tolerate certain behaviours.

It is important to note that these backgrounds are often interlinked and that toxic behaviour is not always intentional or conscious. Nevertheless, it is important to understand the causes in order to take appropriate measures to deal with the problem.

What fears can arise for you as a person affected?

Toxic behaviour and an unsafe environment always trigger anxiety, which can affect personal well-being and working relationships. In the present constellation, they can affect the following areas, among others:

1. Fear of confrontation

2. Fear of rejection or loss: those affected may be afraid of confronting customers or service providers or setting boundaries for fear of rejection, loss of business opportunities or the end of the working relationship.

3. Fear of negative consequences, such as reputational damage, financial losses or legal problems.

4. Fear of outbursts of anger or aggression

5. Fear of loss of self-esteem: Toxic behaviour can affect the self-esteem and self-confidence of those affected, as they may begin to doubt themselves or blame themselves for the situation.

6. Fear of the future in terms of career, financial security or mental health.

7. Fear of isolation: sufferers may be afraid of feeling cut off or isolated from others, especially if the toxic behaviour causes them to withdraw from other people or work opportunities.

These fears can place a significant burden on everyone involved and affect their ability to deal effectively with toxic behaviour or protect themselves appropriately. It is important that those affected seek support and develop appropriate strategies to deal with their fears and maintain healthy working relationships.

But what opportunities does this precarious situation also offer you in case of doubt?

Here too, toxic behaviours offer opportunities for those affected to deal with the situation and bring about positive change. Here are some possible opportunities:

1. Self-reflection and self-awareness: there is an opportunity to get to know your own boundaries better and learn to communicate and defend them clearly.

2. Development of conflict resolution skills: Those affected can learn to address and resolve conflicts in a constructive way, which improves their interpersonal skills.

3. Strengthening relationships: By addressing toxic behaviour and setting appropriate boundaries, individuals can help improve the quality of their working relationships. This can lead to greater trust and respect between the parties involved.

4. Improving working conditions: The new experience can create a healthier and more positive working environment, both for themselves and for other employees or customers.

5. Personal growth: overcoming toxic behaviour can lead to personal growth and self-development. Those affected can develop strength and resilience as they learn to deal with and grow from difficult situations.

6. Improved and strengthened communication

7. Opportunity for change: Addressing toxic behaviour and setting boundaries also offers the toxic person the opportunity to self-reflect and change their behaviour. This can lead to positive changes in the working relationship in the long term.


It is important to emphasise that taking advantage of these opportunities often involves an active and conscious decision to deal with the situation and take constructive steps. Nevertheless, these opportunities can help those affected to learn from difficult situations and emerge stronger.

What are the possible risks?

When dealing with toxic behaviour from customers or service providers, there are also risks that should not be neglected. These include, among others

1. Escalation of the conflict

2. Damage to reputation, e.g. by publicising the conflict in online reviews or social media

3. Loss of business opportunities and termination of cooperation

4. Psychological stress with possible long-term effects on mental health

5. Legal consequences due to, for example, breaches of contract, violation of data protection rights, etc.

6. Difficulties in providing evidence, especially in subtle forms such as passive aggression or microaggressions

7. Repetition of behaviour: even if toxic behaviour is successfully addressed, there is a risk that the toxic person will repeat their behaviour or engage in similar behaviour in the future, which could lead to ongoing problems.

It is important that those affected consider the potential risks and challenges and carefully weigh up how they want to deal with toxic behaviour. Sometimes it may be advisable to seek professional support or counselling in order to take the best possible measures.

What can be done preventively?

Various measures and strategies can be taken to prevent toxic behaviour from customers or service providers, such as

1. Clearly communicating expectations and boundaries, particularly in contracts, agreements or simply in conversations, to avoid misunderstandings and establish clear guidelines for working together.

2. Building a trusting working relationship that allows for open communication, empathy and mutual respect.

3. Training and awareness-raising: Employees and service providers can be trained in training and awareness-raising programmes to recognise, avoid and respond appropriately to toxic behaviour. This can promote sensitivity to interpersonal dynamics and conflict management.

4. Promote a positive corporate culture based on respect, fairness and co-operation. Clear corporate values, reward systems for positive behaviour and the promotion of an open and supportive working environment contribute significantly to this.

5. Regular review and adjustment of guidelines and implementation of grievance mechanisms and conflict resolution procedures

6. Establishing a grievance management system to recognise problems at an early stage and respond appropriately.

7. Promoting a culture of feedback that enables problems to be addressed and resolved at an early stage before they lead to major conflicts.

By taking preventative measures, companies and organisations can help to reduce toxic behaviour from customers or service providers and promote a healthier and more productive working environment that is not only efficient but also satisfying to work with.

The following organisations can support you in your situation:

There are various people and resources that can support those affected by toxic behaviour from clients or service providers. Here are some options:

1. supervisors or managers

2. personnel department or HR

3. colleagues or employees

4. external counsellors or mediators as neutral intermediaries

5. trusted persons outside the work environment

6. therapists or counsellors to help avoid stress, anxiety or other psychological effects and develop healthy coping strategies.

Due to the extensive consequences of toxic behaviour in these relationships, it makes sense to seek support at an early stage and draw attention to the undesirable developments. The consequences should be analysed from all different perspectives and attention should be drawn to the corresponding risks.

Conclusion and outlook

In the current times, relationships with customers and service providers are certainly essential and decisive for success. This is why it is particularly important to address any inconsistencies or misconduct accordingly and to take them seriously from the outset. Toxic behaviour can now be easily identified and pinpointed, the relevant departments are trained or can check the accuracy of the interpretation with targeted questions and initiate appropriate measures and support.

It is important to realise that you are not alone and that there is support to fall back on if you are confronted with toxic behaviour. Don't hesitate to utilise these resources to help you manage the situation and make positive changes.

Face up to the conflicts and try to find suitable solutions for yourself and those involved, with appropriate support if necessary!


Coaching offers ideal support here to either take the first steps in conflict management and analysing one's own reaction structures or to directly implement new skills that enable and empower all those involved to learn to deal well and confidently with corresponding situations in relationships. Another option is to act as a mediator or observer and outline a neutral picture of the prevailing relationship patterns in the department or company and use this to provide insights and recommendations for action to the decision-makers.

Trusting that the best possible solution will be allowed to develop and be implemented.


Coaching can provide you with targeted support in overcoming upcoming challenges at every stage - internally in the team or as a leader in the company. Let's work out together how I can provide you in your individual situation with optimal support and customised assistance.

Contact me to take your next steps

Nicole Dildei Coaching

+49 157 58 267 427

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