How to deal with a toxic co-worker?

how-to-deal-with-a-toxic-co-worker

Found yourself a job and looking forward to your financial freedom and expanding you resume? Well, congratulations! What makes work more fun are good, friendly, co-operative and welcoming colleagues. However, sometimes we are faced with co-workers who make it difficult for us to work and give our best. Research suggests that team dynamics play a very prominent role in the success of the organisation, which is bad for the company, and even more important, for your own sake!

When joining a job, it is hard to know beforehand which co-worker or co-workers can prove to be toxic. Signs of toxic co-workers include criticism behind your back, blaming you for something you are not responsible, spreading rumours about you, jealous of you and your success potential, putting you down and trying to make you feel inferior, not showing their true opinions and changing their decisions.

Toxic co-workers can make your work environment negative and affect you emotionally as well as psychologically. This in-turn might affect your performance and progress at work. The key is to know how to deal with such co-workers. The tips listed below will help you to deal with a toxic co-worker.

1. Communicate with the toxic co-worker directly

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You may not be comfortable to do this, but this is an effective measure. Talking directly to the person will allow you to ask questions and find out why he/she is being toxic to you and also express how you feel. The co-worker may not admit to their toxic behaviour and may defend themselves, so be prepared for it. Use it as an opportunity to give a feedback of how their behaviour is making you feel at work.

For example, if the person is indecisive, then establish a deadline for making the decision. If the toxic person does not follow the deadline, then you make a final decision. If he/she is overly competitive, then suggest focusing on team win. Do not take it personally, it will affect your mental being in general.

2. Evaluate yourself

After communicating with the toxic individual and trying to find out why they act and feel the way they do, is there anything in you that you can change to make things better? Maybe you can help them feel less threatened by your success and give them a confidence boaster that they can achieve their goals too.

3. Look for a common ground

Finding a common ground between you and the toxic colleague can help resolve the issues and bring peace. Rather than trying to change the toxic person’s thinking, it is easier to take a step to resolve conflicts by finding common grounds such as common goals.

Analysing their perspective might help you gather why they act the way they do. Try to talk about building peaceful relationship and how it can help both of you achieve your common goals.

4. Try to include the toxic person

Try involving the person in activities or asking their opinions. Maybe the person is toxic because he/she feels excluded or less valued? Perhaps giving some value to them or asking their help with something might work out in your favour.

5. Set your limits of tolerance and speak assertively

You tried communicating with the toxic person, found the root cause of their behaviour, tried resolving through common ground and did everything you can to solve the problem, and nothing changed. Then, what do you do? You set boundaries and speak back assertively.

Do not tolerate any misbehaviour from them. Make it clear what kind of behaviour is acceptable to you and what you will not tolerate. Take actions accordingly if and when the toxic colleague crosses boundaries. Setting clear boundaries for yourself might scare the toxic individual or push him/her to change their behavior pattern.

6. Build relationships with other co-workers, HR and the boss

Build effective relationships with co-workers other than the toxic ones, the hiring manager or HR and the boss. This will help you succeed in your career, despite the behaviour of the toxic co-worker.

7. Discuss with your boss

Mention to your boss that there has been toxic behaviour at the work place and discuss of how it can be improved. Perhaps the boss can help in organising a talk about toxic behaviour at work? Or discuss in a group meeting about toxic behaviour and how it negatively impacts others.

It can also encourage the participation of all team members and provide different perspectives. A standard can be set by the boss about what kind of behaviour will not be tolerated.

8. Look after yoursel

Don’t allow toxic behavior of others to impact you in any way, be it psychologically, emotionally or health-wise. Release all negativity and don’t let it get to you. Shift your focus on yourself and your wellbeing. Continue to give your best at work and don’t let the toxic co-worker affect your performance.

If the toxic co-worker is saying something negative to your face, be ready to back answer and avoid taking it all in. Don’t take any of what the co-worker does, personally including the blame game. If the toxic colleague blames you for something that actually was his/her fault, then don’t take responsibility for it. When someone is being toxic to you, it is most likely that they fear you are better than them or they are jealous. So, know that you are good at your job and keep doing even better. Build a good relationship with the boss and HR manager.

9. Know that you are not alone

If a co-worker is toxic to you, chances are they’re displaying the same behaviour pattern with others too. Be aware of this fact and do not blame yourself for the toxic person’s behaviour, know that it is their problem.  Surround yourself with those who are kind to you at work and keep a distance from the toxic one.

10. Avoid gossip

Do not indulge in gossip and potentially become a toxic worker yourself. Gossip at workplace is not healthy and it can damage your relations and reputation at work. Moreover, if you gossip about others it may come back to you at some point and this will not help you with the difficulties you face with the toxic colleague. Avoid giving in the temptation to gossip about the toxic co-worker too, eventhough it may seem tempting. It won’t do you any good.

11. Detach yourself emotionally

Emotionally detach yourself from the toxic co-worker and the negative situation at work. Instead, use your imagination and games in your mind to interpret the situation differently. This will enable in diverting your attention and ease your stress.

12. Document the toxic person’s behaviour and actions

For instance, if the co-worker bullies you often then, the next time take a note of the date and time, the incident and how you felt.  Also keep a track of anyone else in the workplace who witnessed the toxic individual’s behaviour towards you. Keeping a track will help develop proof for approaching the human resources (HR) department.

13. Maintain a professional relationship

The toxic co-worker is certainly not your friend. So, it is important to maintain a professional boundary with them. Do not become friendly and share too much information and do not allow them to become your friend.

14. Find work elsewhere

Despite taking all measures, if the toxic person’s behaviour is still bothering you then try changing your department. In extreme cases, look for a new job. Being happy, and mentally as well as physically healthy is crucial, even at your workplace. If all your efforts seem to have gone in vain, then consider getting yourself a new job in a more simulative and happy environment.

What if you are the toxic one?

Along with learning how to deal with other co-workers when they become toxic, it is also important to deal with yourself if you are the toxic one in the work place. In group discussions, do you only talk about your opinions and point of view? If you focus only on yourself at work, chances are that you are turning into a toxic colleague. Being jealous of others’ successes, doing dirty politics at work to prevent someone else’s success are some other signs of you becoming the toxic one at work.

What can you do about it?  Give others a chance to speak too and don’t make all conversations about you. Don’t spread rumours and keep them to yourself instead or share it to someone outside work. Be kind to other colleagues at work and be happy in other people’s success.

Is your workplace toxic?

On the other hand, it may not be just a co-worker that’s toxic, the entire work place may be toxic for you. If you are constantly made to feel that you are fortunate to be working there, then chances are the work place isn’t an healthy environment.

There are other tell tale signs of a toxic workplace, such as lack of clear communication where you are not informed about important information or updates, everyone at work lacks the enthusiasm and love for their job, the boss is controlling and erratic and there is always some office drama. The best thing to do in such a situation is to start looking for another job and leave the job with a toxic work environment.

About the author Bella Williams

As an academic researcher & private tutor, Bella guides the new age professionals and students with their career. A graduate from Monash University, Bella organizes free coaching workshops and promotes free sharing of knowledge. You can also find her on LinkedIn.