The Puritan: Toxic Workplace Behavior Profile

Updated: Feb 18, 2019


This series of articles explores the toxic behavior profiles that persistently generate workplace conflict and provides tips on how to respond.


In Creative vs. Toxic Conflict at Work, I discussed one of the key features that distinguishes toxic conflict from creative conflict.


Creative conflict is rooted in the dynamics between people. In creative conflict, the motives and goals of group members are typically healthy and focused on a sincere desire to solve concrete external problems and challenges.


Toxic conflict is typically rooted in the personalities of individual people. While creative conflict is rooted in an external problem, toxic conflict is rooted in the problematic behavior of one or more individuals.


Think of these “Toxic Workplace Behavior Profile” articles as your top-secret files on how to prepare and respond strategically to the most disruptive and toxic behaviors in your workplace.


Code Name: The Puritan


Motto: Let’s just agree to disagree… so long as you agree with me.


Favorite Song: “Puritan Faith” by Mr. Brett (wonderfully horrible take on George Michael’s “Faith” from the history teacher you wish you had in high school)


Favorite Movie: The Crucible (especially this scene)


Behavior: In the recent article, How to Fight a Witch Hunt, I warned that all communities carry within them a dark potential to become so fundamentalist in their thinking and beliefs, that any perceived digression is viewed as an existential threat.


This type of toxic drift within the culture of an organization is usually driven the behavior of one or more die-hard “Puritans”.


The word “Puritan” originated as a pejorative term for 16th and 17th century English Protestant religious reformers who sought to “perfect” earlier reforms of the Anglican church. Many were undoubtedly people of strong faith with the best of intentions. These early puritans were known for their piety, austerity with regard to behavior and displays of wealth, and disciplined adherence to their code of faith.


While none of those things are inherently toxic, elements of their movement saw a drift towards inflexible dogma, rigid social codes, and intense self-policing of their own congregations. Driving much of this was a commonly held belief that their small sect was a vanguard that would lead humanity to a coming golden age on Earth that would herald the end-times. In short, they sought to “purify” themselves, others, and institutions in anticipation