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7 Effective Ways to Deal with a Toxic Coworker

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Toxic employees are egocentric; they gossip, lie, focus on the negative and use a variety of tactics to control those around them. Subsequently, they quickly can sap the positivity, productivity and innovation out of you and your business. You can’t necessarily change a toxic coworker, but you can control your response to them.

1) Praise Rather than Empathize.

If you can relate to something negative that your toxic coworker is telling you, resist the urge to agree with them or dish about how much you understand their woes. The more they think you “get it,” the more they’ll come to you as a sounding board for every mistake, perceived injustice or hard decision. Instead of pointing out how alike you are or that they are right, point out cases where they’ve been successful, or focus on the positive traits they have that can carry them through their crisis. Encourage them through this process to come up with solutions rather than to stay fixated on their problems.

2) Listen.

Even though you don’t want to get too close to a toxic coworker, you’ll be in a better position to guide them out of the yuck pit with positivity if you understand what’s behind their behavior. For instance, if they’re lamenting to you about how your boss gave them a bad performance review, they might be feeling underappreciated or scared that they won’t have a chance to move up. The more your toxic coworker fixates on an issue, the more likely it is that there is something about it causing them psychological distress. Acknowledging that distress can keep you from seeing your coworker as malicious, and therefore, keep your temper in check.

3) Say What You Need or Want to See.

Centering on the fact that your coworker is being negative or toxic likely will only make them defensive and worsen the problem. Kick down their guard by highlighting the positive outcome or behavior you’re looking for. For example, instead of saying “I can’t get anything done if you constantly interrupt me at random while I’m working!”, say “I sure appreciate you taking your time to share your thoughts and ideas with me, but it’d really help me focus better if we can set up a regular time during the day to chat. How does 2 p.m. work in your schedule?” In essence, regardless of the issue, politely set a boundary and enforce it, incorporating reasonable alternatives to the behavior you want to get rid of.

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4) Talk About How You Feel.

Toxic people often are so focused on reaching their own objectives that they miss how their behavior makes others feel. Use “I” statements such as “When [x] happened, I really felt [y].” Then list some consequences, such as “If things keep going the way they are, I’m going to have to talk to [team lead, boss, etc.].” The idea here isn’t to judge or portray their behavior as bad or good, but merely to make your coworker aware of your emotional state and give them a chance to react to your plans.

5) Keep Them Busy.

The more your toxic coworker is included in projects, the less time they have to focus on themselves, and the more they’re exposed to others who can provide positive support. More work also means you have the opportunity to praise what they’re doing well and ask for their opinions, which can improve the negative self-image that likely leads them to toxic behavior in the first place.

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Better World Books Good Reading
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6) Ask for Clarification and Details.

Toxic coworkers often act based on a framework: they get a little of a story and then fill in any gaps in ways that benefit them. Questions like “It sounds like what you mean is [x]. Is that accurate?”, “How do you know [x]?” and “Are you sure about [x]?” often throw them off, as they’re frequently not prepared to elaborate on or defend what they’ve made up. If appropriate, point them in the direction of the details you’re looking for, such as suggesting they talk to your boss as promoted in your current handbook.

7) Approach Your Boss and/or HR.

This may be a bit workplace specific, but the takeaway here is to let someone know what’s going on. You might assume that your boss or Human Resources reps are already aware of what your toxic coworker is doing, but this isn’t always the case. And sharing your concerns and challenges is important information to organizations that value their talent. Be clear that you’ve already tried talking to your coworker without success, and point out what the company stands to lose if their behavior continues. This doesn’t make you a “complainer,” it makes you a “team-player.”

 

Toxic coworkers have the potential to drag good employees–and entire companies–through the mud. Apply these strategies in good conscience to protect yourself and your business.

 

Have other suggestions that you’ve found helpful when dealing with a toxic coworker?

Share them in the comments below.

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