How to deal with toxic coworkers (and not get burned)

worried-looking man looks at two coworkers figuring out how to deal with toxic coworkers

You settle in to work and then get that familiar draining feeling: a new day, same stuff going on! Despite loving your job, some of your colleagues drag you down, day in and day out. How to deal with toxic coworkers can seem defeating, but there are ways around it.

According to a Harvard Business School study of over 60,000 workers, around one in twenty employees is terminated for toxic behavior. Unsurprisingly, toxic workers have a direct negative effect on colleagues, impacting the bottom line. Dealing with toxic coworkers resulted in team members reporting -

  • 63% lost productive time avoiding toxic coworkers
  • 66 % believed their work performance deteriorated
  • 78% claimed their commitment to their employer declined
  • 80% spent both work and private time worrying about toxic behavior towards them
Table of contents
Toxic people drain energy and profits
Regain control from toxic coworkers
Devise a strategy and take action
How to deal with toxic coworkers in 3 simple steps:
To wrap it up

Toxic people drain energy and profits

In an ever-evolving business environment that expects innovation and engagement at grassroots level, teams need to cooperate to succeed. Separate groups mostly have an overarching responsibility as well to ensure the flow of work is maintained. The last thing any organization needs is toxic people always putting a spanner in the works.

Whether it’s backstabbing, narcissism, passive aggression, conscious or unconscious bias, or discrimination – regular mistreatment will take a toll on you. Many toxic people thrive on making others feel small or unhappy, while others might be completely unaware of the draining effect they have. 

Either way, none of them care about the poison they spread through a company’s ecosystem and the price others pay. Productivity declines as employees try to navigate the negativity without getting sucked in. And lower productivity results in loss of profits.

The situation gets further aggravated if it’s management spilling venomous vibes into the work environment, or if management does nothing about it. Now you’re not only dealing with toxic coworkers, but you feel helpless as well because no one’s going to do anything about it.

Regain control from toxic coworkers

Once a sense of helplessness sets in, you’ve resigned yourself to that fact that you’ve got no hope of figuring out how to deal with toxic coworkers. You’ve given away your personal power!

While it might be tough however, you’ve got it in you to take back control over the situation. This does mean that you have to accept some realities that you’d rather avoid, but it’s necessary. When we draw a line in the sand and say that’s it, we’re setting boundaries.

Nasty people are inclined to kick back because they enjoy the power-high they get from seeing others squirm or trying to please them. Conversely, energy vampires who are unaware of their draining talents are usually over-sensitive and will become defensive. You might end up feeling either intimidated or guilty for taking a stand if you’re not adequately prepared.

Unfortunately, you’re not responsible for how someone else who has the potential to ruin your career or reputation feels. They must deal with their emotions while you need to take care of what’s in your best interests.

4 things to consider in how to deal with toxic coworkers

Never dive in headfirst without thinking your actions through. Doing that can lead to overreactions and overly emotional responses. You need to plan your next moves beforehand when figuring out how to deal with toxic coworkers. Each situation is unique, but here are some things to consider.

What’s their role in your success?

If it’s your manager, they have a direct influence on your job security and future career prospects. When it’s a close team member, their actions can result in you getting a bad performance review; that’s a huge risk! If you only interact occasionally, you can mitigate damage more easily.

How does their behavior impact you?

Do you get frustrated, angry, irritated, or are you actually afraid of them? It’s easier to figure out how to handle frustration or irritation than anger or fear. The first two can be sorted with some emotional intelligence, while the latter can lead to irrational behavior on your part. Get professional help to deal with these emotions if you need it.

What are their behavior patterns?

Are you the subject of gossip, or do they want to share juicy stories with you? Sarcasm, nasty comments or ignoring people is also unacceptable. Is it subtle sabotage to trip you up so that you don’t meet deadlines or reach targets? All of these are different behaviors with varied motivations, but there’s no value in putting up with it because it’s unlikely to stop.

Do they treat everyone the same way?  

This is going to take some observation, particularly if you feel victimized. When we give away our power and believe we’ve got no control, we’re inclined to only focus on our misery. Toxic coworkers will treat everyone the same way, maybe not all of the time, but you won’t be the only one. 

However, if you notice that you’re the only one (unless you work in a very small company), you might be the problem. That’s tough to accept if you believe you’re a victim, but possibly you need to do some work on your intrapersonal intelligence

If it truly is a bullying situation, you should bring up your concerns to the HR department immediately.

Devise a strategy and take action

No matter how low you feel, you must take action. Not only is your reputation and career potentially at stake, but your health and wellbeing are too. After considering the previous four factors and any others that came to mind, you could conclude that you’re in a no-win situation. 

Wasting your time and energy on something that can’t be changed will only wear you down. For example, if you have a passive aggressive boss, you could be fighting a losing battle. Or if the company leadership is the catalyst of toxic behavior, it’s unlikely you’ll resolve anything.

Remember that walking away isn’t a sign of defeat; it’s a sign of courage and self-respect. Make plans to start looking for another job and steel yourself to cope until you get another offer. If possible, always bow out professionally with grace and dignity knowing that you put a stop to their abuse (and they’ll know that as well).

How to deal with toxic coworkers in 3 simple steps:

Recognizing that you have more control over the situation than you believed allows you to take steps to eliminate or reduce the impact of toxic behaviors on you personally. That way, you get to keep your job, improve team dynamics and enjoy coming to work again. Whatever you opt for, be sure that you confidently put boundaries in place and that your toxic colleagues understand them.

1) Taking a direct approach

Confronting someone head-on can seem scary, but if you do it politely, there’s nothing to worry about. Always do it in private and preferably face to face. Written interactions are easily misconstrued. Avoid potentially inflammatory language, no matter how upset you feel. 

Accusing statements like “you always pass nasty comments at me” can quickly be turned back on you. Instead, opt for “I don’t always understand why you pass the comments you do. Am I missing something?” 

Or when the office gossips are huddled together and try to rope you in, tell them that you don’t like discussing other people and then walk away. Every time they start talking about others, or if they include you in internal messages, ignore them. They’ll soon accept your boundary.

2) Managing workflow

Team members who intentionally stymie your progress can easily be handled by using a collaborative task scheduling and workflow progress tool. Sell the idea to your manager on the grounds that it will improve productivity and eliminate bottlenecks. Ensure that your boss has access. 

Your saboteurs will end up getting exposed if they continue with their antics. Also, put interdepartmental and external communication in writing and ask for a reply. By doing that you show that you’re managing your responsibilities and avoid potential blame.

3) Take it higher

If all efforts fail, take the matter up with your manager or HR. You must have facts to back up your claims, so make sure that you manage your workflow beforehand. Ask to be removed from the offenders and don’t feel bad if they know that you reported the matter. They have no right to make you unhappy.

One issue that must get escalated immediately is bullying of any kind. Don’t allow yourself to be bullied because bullies will intensify their abuse if they think you’re afraid.

To wrap it up

You can only control your behavior, emotions and workflow, so that’s where your focus must be. That said, by establishing boundaries and sticking to them, people will soon realize that you’re not easily intimidated and you have confidence in your abilities. A self-assured person exudes personal power, and you could find your toxic colleagues suddenly feeling intimidated.

You might lose some “friends” once you’ve figured out how to deal with toxic coworkers, but then they weren’t genuine. Most important is your health and wellbeing as well as your professional reputation and career success.

F4S can help identify friction points and resolve team conflict, so encourage your HR department or boss to give it a try. Sign up for free today.

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