• News
  • Columns
  • Interviews
  • BW Communities
  • Events
  • BW TV
  • Subscribe to Print
BW Businessworld

Ways To Handle Toxic Colleagues

In your workplace microcosm, there will always exist those coworkers who are toxic, who will exert great strain on your working relationships and hinder your job performance


Neither can you choose your family nor can you choose your co-workers. Pretty much like a dysfunctional family, the workplace can also be a breeding ground for chaos.

In your workplace microcosm, there will always exist those coworkers who are toxic, who will exert great strain on your working relationships and hinder your job performance. Sometimes by virtue of what they do or don’t do, say or don’t say or just by sheer virtue of their negative energy floating around the office.

It’s likely you’ve come across at least one–if not all–of these personality types throughout the course of your career. Every workplace has them

  • The negative, nagging, mean-spirited, or super-competitive people who make your work life hell
  • The spoilsport who storms off when his ideas aren’t the ones chosen
  • The dead weight who drags the whole team down with poor performance
  • The loner who prefers to work alone and doesn’t share ideas with others
  • The politician who is more interested in his own career than what’s best for the team or the company and who takes credit for others’ work
  • The boss who constantly finds faults
  • The perennially uncooperative colleague

People like these push your buttons and drain your energy. Sometimes when someone like this even passes your desk your morale gets pulled down.

Toxic people can negatively impact productivity and decision-making and breed a pessimistic work environment.

Unfortunately, you can't escape these people and they will always be a part of your everyday routine.

Toxic people may undermine, they may sabotage, but whatever their insidious actions and motives, they definitely have an effect on the people who have to work with them.

Ways to deal with toxic colleagues

1. Create and Set Boundaries:

Decide what is acceptable behaviour and what isn’t and communicate it to the toxic person who you are dealing with.

Sometimes team leaders or colleagues cover a toxic person's tracks just to keep the team looking good. It is important to goad the toxic person who is shirking responsibility and playing politics that they need to take ownership of their actions and rectify them.

Individuals picking up the slack must decide how much extra work they are willing to take on to compensate for the slacker; post which it is important to communicate it to them. This will force the toxic person to step up and prevent burnout from the rest of the team who is already doing their fair share of the work.

This will also avert resentment and force the individual to change their toxic behavior, or risk being outed for their poor performance.

2. Be assertive and put a positive spin on things:

When dealing with someone who is constantly creating a toxic environment it is also worth try providing a positive alternative to their behavior instead.

Saying something like, “I appreciate that you really think through all the possible reasons why things won’t work; however, it would be helpful to me if you could occasionally make a supportive statement or say what’s good about the project,” may force them to think positively too.

3. Bring the focus back to yourself:

The easiest thing to do is to focus on other people, which can take a lot of time and energy. Instead of expending energy concerning yourself with the behavior of others, focus on what you can do and make sure you’re doing your job as well as you can.

A common characteristic of toxic people is that they’re extremely self-centered. Be positive at all times yet find ways to protect yourself from their wrath.

For example when you are dealing with the political coworker, who is likely to turn a discussion into a debate, inviting a third party to participate in meetings and keeping documentation of discussions is the best way to protect yourself from their drama.

Take care of yourself.

4. Reclaim your power:

Stop giving toxic people your head space. Though this is incredibly difficult, remind yourself that you end up sabotaging your efforts if you're obsessing over what someone else is doing, or what he or she might do next.

So don’t overthink your decisions and consider their feedback before it's even been offered or forced upon you.

A toxic person's behaviour is a product of their complexes and issues, it has nothing to do with you. Remove the emotion out of your reaction to toxic people. They're going to do what they're going to do, but you don't have to get upset about it. Reclaim your power back.

5. Take physical breaks away from your workplace:

Sometimes all you need to do is to create a physical distance between the toxic person and your self. Find a park, go for a walk, just get away from the office and the toxic person for a brief respite when you can.

6. Occasionally let them act out:

Don't completely block out a toxic person. Yes, you need distance, and you need to put your foot down, but this is also a person you need to cooperate with on some level, given your mutual employment. Unfortunately, it's not like a toxic friend-you can't just stop answering the phone.

Let him or her speak, share his or her ideas (even if they are terrible), give his or her input (even if it's off base and mean), and don't interrupt.

Give him or her the respect he or she deserves in his or her professional position so you're poised to ask for the same.

Everyone is fighting their own battles, be kind and keep that in consideration.

7. Surround yourself with as many positive people:

The best way to counter toxic people is to surround yourself with people, who lift you up and give you energy instead of sucking it out of you.

Make a conscious decision to spend more time with the fun, happy, constructive people in your workplace. Uplifting people are a great counterbalance to toxicity.

Look inside, too. Check your self-speak, those million little things we tell ourselves on a regular basis.

Eventually, it is your inner dialogue that wins. The story that you tell yourself.

The quality of your stories determines the quality of your life.

Tags assigned to this article:

Top themes and market attention on: