5 Steps To Dealing With Toxic Co-Workers


Sometimes it’s the office gossip king or queen. Sometimes it’s the narcissistic guy two cubicles away who treats everyone like they’re beneath him. Sometimes it’s that one colleague who lashes out pre-emptively because she thinks everyone’s out to get her. It takes all kinds.


Closing one eye to toxic behaviour in the workplace might seem like a good way to stay sane. Realistically speaking, though, you can’t skirt around the problem forever, especially if you have no immediate plans to find a different company to work for.

Here are five steps you can take to deal with toxic co-workers without losing your sanity in the process.

Don’t stop there, though. Equip yourself with the skills to work with every type of co-worker under the sun with SSA Academy’s WSQ course on communicating and relating effectively at work!


1. Keep your distance


Toxic people exude negativity the way durians emit offensive odours. It’s impossible to keep people like that entirely out of your life, but what you can do is to limit your interactions with them.

Stay away from them unless it can’t be avoided. The more you keep your distance, the less ammunition they have against you.

If and when you need to work with them, make sure to keep yourself in check. You control your emotions, not the other way around. You might not be able to change their toxic behaviour, but you can change the way you respond to it.



2. Don’t take the bait


Singular toxic co-workers can often stir up so much trouble that the entire team gets ensnared in the negativity.

It’s easier said than done, but you need to be the better person in the equation. For the sake of your integrity, mental health, and productivity at work, it’s crucial that you don’t engage in tit-for-tat measures.

As much as possible, contain the toxicity by avoiding the following:

  • Giving them a taste of their own medicine
  • Gossiping with other co-workers about them
  • Taking it personally



3. Pick your battles wisely


Confrontation is often inevitable (and necessary) in these situations, but it requires time and energy, and in some cases, a long, drawn-out process of conflict resolution.

Instead of depleting your resources by constantly jumping into the ring, you need to know how to pick your battles.

Where do you the draw line? What’s your threshold for enduring toxic behaviour? What can you let slide, and what are you not going to stand for? Where do your priorities lie on your various responsibilities at work, and does your toxic co-worker jeopardise your ability to focus on those bigger priorities?

Doing this helps you to look at the big picture instead of allowing yourself to be unnecessarily diverted from your goals again and again by toxic co-workers. It’s also easier to be the bigger person in the situation when you know you have bigger things to worry about than co-workers who get on your nerves.



4. Speak to them directly about your concerns


Push has come to shove, and you really can’t stomach any more toxicity. Something has to be done; it’s time to confront them about it directly.

It’s a tricky situation; toxic people often tend to get defensive, which can complicate things. To minimise the chances of this, though, you can do the following:

  • Check your emotions: it’s a bad idea to engage if you’re fuming
  • Ground your concerns in a particular behaviour of theirs instead of in their personality
  • Practice empathy and active listening

Listening actively is a particularly effective tool in situations like these because it can help you to pick up on cues that tell you there’s more to your co-worker’s toxic behaviour than it seems.

If they consistently lash out at others, for example, it might be because they’re going through a difficult time at home. It could also just be rooted in insecurity. Knowing the root of their toxic behaviour allows you to choose the most appropriate course of action to take to help them out.



5. Bring it up with your manager or HR


If all else fails and you’ve exhausted all possibilities without seeing any fruitful changes in them, it’s time to bring in a third party. Either speak to your supervisor or HR about the issue and share with them what you’ve already done to try and rectify it from your end.

It’s vital that you bring in someone neutral to either party so that they can provide as objective an opinion as possible about how to resolve your differences.



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