Dealing with Toxic Coworkers

The following are key ways to identify and cope with toxic coworkers of all stripes.
business man putting their hand on their head with frustration

Dealing with toxic coworkers

Working a fast-paced job can be difficult. In addition to the already demanding day-to-day responsibilities of your profession, dealing with toxic coworkers can be downright unmanageable. While it might seem like the simplest way to avoid a toxic work environment is to find a new job, for many people, that’s not exactly feasible. Plus, the truth is that problematic colleagues exist everywhere — and you can’t outrun all of them.

You can, however, make dealing with toxic coworkers more manageable. Doing so will help you maintain focus on what matters most: excelling in your career and living a happy, peaceful personal life. The following are key ways to identify and cope with toxic coworkers of all stripes. 

Identifying toxic coworkers 

Everyone knows what it’s like to spend time with someone who’s hard to get along with. This is especially true in a work environment, where there’s a lot riding on your cooperation. If you fail to live up to client or internal expectations, you could lose out on career opportunities, suffer reprimands from upper management or, at worst, lose your job. 

Because of this, you’ll want to identify toxic coworkers before they can have a measurable impact on your success. The following are some traits that negative, manipulative or problematic colleagues possess. Toxic colleagues are:

  • Disrespectful of your time and obligations
  • Rude, disagreeable and needlessly confrontational
  • Quick to discredit your contributions to a project or initiative
  • Smug or unreasonably confident in their own subject matter knowledge
  • Sarcastic and ridiculing 
  • Controlling about unimportant details of projects
  • Highly motivated by gossip and internal workplace politics

This is by no means a list of all the toxic traits a coworker might possess, but it’s a good place to start. If you’ve encountered a number of these aspects in one of your colleagues, you might be dealing with a toxic coworker. 

Dealing with toxic colleagues 

It’s not easy to put up with the kind of behavior mentioned above. Doing so can leave you feeling distressed, drained and exhausted beyond belief. In order to make working alongside toxic coworkers bearable, you’ll need to radically reorient how you see, hear and respond to their attitudes. Here’s a few tactics and mindsets to keep in mind.

You’re not what they say you are 

Remember that, first and foremost, you’re not anything that your toxic coworkers say you are. We call this the “zucchini principle” around here: if someone calls you a zucchini, it doesn’t make you a zucchini. You’re still a person. It might be a silly way to get the point across, but it works for everything else, too — just because your negative coworkers call you irresponsible, slow, unqualified or anything else, it doesn’t make it true. 

Hold fast to your beliefs that you are good at what you do, and don’t let a toxic coworker get in your head. After all, you wouldn’t go to them for advice, so why would you take their criticism as credible?

You’ll want to learn about them

Once you’ve stopped paying attention to negative remarks made by toxic colleagues, you can start to really learn, engage with and get curious about them. That’s right: you should be very curious about your coworkers, even if they’re insufferable. Doing so can help you understand why they do what they do, and how that might change if the circumstances were different.

Watch what they say and do. Don’t waste all your energy on this — it’s not worth it to spend all your valuable time psychoanalyzing your colleagues — but do be cognizant of factors that might be making them more disagreeable than others around them. Knowing what motivates them will give you the tools needed to let go of your animosity toward them. 

Why would you want to let go of your animosity toward a mean and rude coworker, you ask? Because: holding hate for your coworker is putting an awful lot of energy into a person you don’t like and don’t want to think about, so being able to give that up will clear up a lot of headspace for you to focus on what you do want instead. Let go of their petty behavior as best you can, and you’ll start to see your day become far more focused on all the good aspects of your job, instead of the person you dislike. 

Look for opportunities 

While it might not be feasible to quit your job to avoid your coworkers, there are probably opportunities within your workplace to put some distance between the two of you. What’s possible? Can you transfer to a different team? Work on another floor? Can you take more work-related trips to de-stress and get away from your coworker? Or is there a way to work from home so that you don’t have to see negative or toxic coworkers in person at all?

These are just options, but they’re designed to get you thinking about all the possibilities at your fingertips. Again, it’s not worth re-tooling your whole life just to get around a disagreeable person. But when you start to look at how a negative coworker could push you toward something new and exciting, it turns the normally negative experience of a toxic coworker into an opportunity for personal growth and development. 

Engage with your support systems 

Remember: not everyone at your workplace is toxic! You probably have other amazing colleagues and managers who are kind, respectable and lovely to be around. These are your support systems, and it’s okay to use them. 

Maybe you just want to vent to a coworker about someone’s annoying behavior. Or maybe you need to escalate the situation to a manager or HR representative in order to have it resolved. Whatever the case, remember that no one is an island, and it pays to focus on the people who are actually there for you, instead of focusing on combating the one or two people who aren’t. 

You don’t have to deal with toxic coworkers alone 

Are you completely fed up with your toxic coworkers, and still don’t know where to turn? We can help. We’re a coaching service designed to not only deal with the negative people in your life, but we also focus on helping you think differently so that you can succeed in your career, personal life and beyond. 

While toxic coworkers can be the bane of a good job, we’ll navigate them together — and together, we’ll help you develop a completely new outlook on how to leave those negative influences behind. 

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