Toxic Turnoff

There’s lots of buzz around toxic colleagues. If you’ve not come across one, count yourself lucky. They can make life at work miserable. No wonder some people decide the answer is to work from home. That’s seldom a lasting solution, and the toxic colleagues may find ways to catch up with you there.

Toxicity is all about how much time you spend with people. It’s great if they’re the sort you can bounce ideas off and not feel you’ll end up being accused of anything from sexual harassment to being just plain dull.

Who are the toxic people at work? They’re the total jerks, such as the Bulldozer, the Gaslighter, and the Credit Stealer. Not only do such people exist, but they may be in jobs near you.

Since toxic colleagues can be frustrating and discouraging, it’s essential to understand their behaviour and how it affects you. It helps to adopt ways to deal with and outwit them.

If you feel a co-worker is a toxic influence on your work, there are things you can do about it. The most obvious and least dodgy is talking directly to them about your concerns. That way, you bring their behaviour out in the open. Often, they will admit to it and offer to correct it.

Toxic colleagues are a pain to work with because they cause stress. They make unreasonable requests and overact to simple mistakes. When dealing with them, it’s best to have thick skin. Many people have at least one toxic worker to cope with who is manipulative, rude, or downright nasty.

Their brand of negativity can spread to an entire team. Unhealthy workers are not merely confrontational and aggressive. They’re also greedy and unsatisfied and act like they know everything. They often weaponise sarcasm, using ridicule to tear others down.

One of the worst kinds is those who see you as a threat, constantly attacking your work and its quality at every opportunity. They also tend to be controlling, and their language is invariably harmful.

It can be exhausting coping with such people. Ignoring them may work for a while, but eventually, you may need to act. Start by watching their every move. This may be challenging, but when you do, you can begin to understand their problems and plan to deal with them.

An effective strategy is acknowledging their distress and showing that you take them seriously. For example, if they feel underappreciated or scared, for instance, about their next career move, you have a handle on how to deal with them. By unravelling their motivation, you can make informed decisions and prevent matters from spinning out of control.

Since toxic colleagues can drag an entire company through the mud, you must protect yourself from their harmful influence. Try to avoid engaging with them since they will often disagree with you. The answer is to model a positive presence and show your integrity. In this way, you become a role model for others and will build up some allies.

Sometimes as happened to me once, it comes down to a case of “it’s them or me.” We had made a wrong decision and recruited someone who turned out to be toxic. After putting up with it for months, I realised that I was getting nowhere fast and either they went, or I did. Since I was a co-founder, they went!

Finally, don’t underestimate the after-effects of dealing with a toxic colleague. There’s nearly always a residue of bad feelings with those left behind. For example, there may be a period of agonising “why did we put up with them for so long?”

To sum up, all work involves human contact. At best, try to see the toxic people as humans; at worst, regard them as dangerous and act accordingly.

For more on this topic, listen to my podcast, Episode 18.

Comment on this blog. What’s been your experience in dealing with toxic colleagues?

For more ways to succeed at work, listen to my next Podcast! Every Monday