How to Deal With Toxic Coworkers
Very few people make it to retirement without encountering at least a few truly toxic coworkers. There’s no shortage of advice on dealing with people like this. Unfortunately, much of that advice seems to be designed for people who excel at direct confrontation. Many introverts don’t fall into this category. In addition to this, the advice often misses out on the behaviors that can be specifically toxic for introverts.
Dealing with toxic coworkers can be especially overwhelming. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to identify toxic behavior and deal with it productively.
Toxic behavior is ongoing behavior that undermines productivity, compromises safety and ethics, or creates hostile work conditions. These go beyond someone being a bit lazy or a bit of jerk. Dealing with toxic employees can truly take a toll. So, be on the lookout for the following behaviors.
Aggression and bullying can be expressed in physical ways, but they aren’t limited to that. Workplace bullies often use underhanded techniques as means to make their behavior seem innocent. This might include couching insults in humorous or supposedly helpful remarks.
It’s easy to assume that only those in leadership positions can use favoritism to create a toxic work environment. This isn’t true. Toxic people can form cliques, work cooperatively with some while refusing to do so with others, for example.
These are coworkers who are happy to seek advice and assistance on projects or who will even suggest that you to take the lead. Unfortunately, when the work is finished they manage to ensure that only their name is on the final product.
Gossip exists, and most people engage it on some level. However, when gossipping means starting false rumors, pitting people against each other, or otherwise actively sabotaging the target’s ability to fit in and succeed in the workplace is toxic behavior.
Some toxic coworkers will engage in tactics such as leaving you out of important communications. They might also deliberately send unclear expectations or ignore your requests for clarification. This leaves you unable to do your job effectively.
Now that you know what toxic behavior looks like, you can take action to deal with it.
Everyone deserves to work in a place that is safe and conducive to them doing their best work. Everyone is also obligated to behave in ways that contribute to a healthy and productive workplace. When people cannot or will not do so, they are toxic. It’s their job to figure out and address their behavior.
Don’t take on their task by becoming a devil’s advocate. For example, if John in accounting is deliberately leaving you out of emails containing information you have to know in order to do your job, he needs to stop that. Don’t waste energy wondering if he’s just stressed out or if you may have inadvertently offended him.
Complainers and gossipers love to have their own behavior mirrored back to them. If they badmouth a coworker, they want you to jump in and dish your own dirt. If they complain about pointless things, your complaining will only encourage them. This is true even if you complain to them about their complaining.
Instead, be relentlessly optimistic. If a toxic coworker nags about a customer, say the customer seemed fairly nice to you. If a coworker complains about some unchangeable thing for the sake of complaining, tell them you’ve learned to live with it. These non-confrontational statements can shut down toxic people without causing energy sapping engagement.
Unfortunately, toxic people often present as being sympathetic figures. They need an ear because they’re so stressed out. They need you to take on one task for them because they’re so overwhelmed. Your tendency to be sensitive and compassionate can work for them, but against you.
Don’t let that happen. The energy you may have to spend in saying no and establishing boundaries will be immense. However, that doesn’t compare to the suffering you will endure when you let emotional vampires into your headspace.
Ideally, if toxic coworkers are making it difficult for you to do your job, there should be policies and procedures in place. Most importantly, there should be people to enforce those policies. You shouldn’t have to engage a toxic person alone. Know your workplace rules and regulations. Then, don’t be hesitant to involve your supervisor or HR to help. Strong leadership means creating a healthy work environment and advocating for employees. You may find it easier to approach them than the person you are in conflict with.
Unfortunately, in order to deal with toxic people, you’re going to very like have to do things that aren’t easy. Setting boundaries, speaking to your supervisor, even speaking with toxic people directly are challenging tasks. If you are able, reach out to your support systems for help. Use trusted friends as a sounding board and source of encouragement. Then, take action to deal with toxic coworkers in as constructive a way as possible.
Sylvia Giltner is an HR manager, blogger, and freelance writer. She works at ResumesCentre.com. Her job is helping people craft ideal resumes that lead to the jobs of their dreams.
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