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How to deal with toxic work colleagues

Effective strategies and tips

A person who is stressed out at work due to the toxic environment

Dealing with toxic work colleagues can create a stressful and uncomfortable environment, impacting productivity and overall well-being. Worse yet, the negative energy can spread around the office like wildfire. 

I’ve worked in a few different industries – film, property and the government (education sector), so I’ve dealt with my fair share of toxic work colleagues and know how to pick them from a mile away!

In order to turn your life around and better deal with toxic work colleagues today we’ll – a) identify the traits of a toxic work colleague, b) discuss strategies on how to deal with a toxic work colleague, and c) learn how to detach from a toxic work environment after a long day.

How can you tell if a co-worker is toxic?

They will exhibit one or more of the traits below

1. The Office Gossiper:

This person loves spreading rumours and creating drama. They often engage in malicious gossip and spread twisted truths/ misinformation around the office. 

2. The Credit Thief:

This person always takes credit for other peoples’ work and never acknowledges other persons efforts. They always want to elevate their image at the expense of others’ hard work. 

3. The Constant Critic:

This person is a micromanager and is consistently finding things to criticise others about. They always focus on problems and any little mistake rather than solutions. They tend to be on the angry side and the never-ending criticism feels like you can’t do anything right, which reduces morale and self-esteem.

4. The Underminer:

This person purposely undermines the efforts of others to sabotage their success. They spread rumours, withhold crucial information and say things like “you won’t understand this” or “you don’t need to know this” when in fact you do need to know this. They are always looking to turn people against you.

5. The Manipulator:

This person manipulates and uses others for their own gain. They can be very charming when they need to be and use flattery to get what they want. They are incredibly manipulative and are often controlling and want everyone to go along with their narrative of things. 

Identifying your toxic work colleagues personality traits is the first step in figuring out how to deal with them.

How to protect yourself from toxic work colleagues?

Strategies to implement

1. Dealing with the Office Gossip:

  • Be mindful of information: Never share personal or sensitive information about yourself as you know they will most likely share this with the rest of the office. 
  • Limit Your Interaction: Make your interactions minimal so you don’t become a topic of conversation. 
  • Redirect Conversations: Try and politely redirect the conversation about something else. If in doubt say you need to use the bathroom. 

2. Handling the Credit Thief:

  • Document your work efforts: Always record your contributions to projects. It can be handy to note down specific dates and milestones. 
  • Share credit: Always lead by example and give your other co-workers credit where credit is due. 
  • Advocate for yourself: If someone claims your work is theirs, make sure to address the issue with your supervisor but make sure to stay diplomatic about it. 

3. Managing the Constant Critic:

  • Focus on useful feedback: When you receive constant criticism, try and see if there is anything useful you can turn around and use as constructive feedback while ignoring the negativity. 
  • Recognise their pattern: Understand that their actions are a reflection of their own insecurities or perfectionist tendencies and not a reflection of your abilities.
  • Set boundaries: If they step out of line and say something hurtful or inappropriate, remind them of your boundaries and state how you would like to keep things professional. 
  • Separate their opinion from your worth: Their constant attacks says more about their personality than about your character or work abilities. Their viewpoint is not related to your worth. Remember, if you would not take advice from this person or do not want to be like them, why would you listen to their criticism? 

4. Handling the Underminer:

  • Address the behaviour: If you feel confident enough, address the sabotage like behaviour with the individual or escalate with HR or a supervisor. The sooner you do this the better. 
  • Acknowledge their motivation: The underminers behaviour is a reflection of their need for control and not anything to do with you.
  • Stay confident in your abilities: Remember to rise above it and focus on the work at hand. Their sabotaging is not a reflection of your work abilities.
  • Stay vigilant: Make sure to keep an eye out for things like information going missing, sudden setbacks, misplaced blame, or individual conversations that could be misconstrued, as these are all signs of sabotage. Make sure to note these all down with dates, times and a description of the details.

5. Dealing with the Manipulator:

  • Maintain independence: Try your best to keep your distance from this person and don’t get bogged down by their scheming behaviour. 
  • Trust your gut: If something doesn’t feel right, or you have an instinct that they are manipulating something, keep your wits about you. Make sure to stay assertive and trust your own judgements.
  • Seek support: Talk to co-workers you trust about their manipulative behaviour, as you never know, they might be experiencing the same thing. They may be able to share some useful strategies for how they’ve been dealing with it. 
  • Understand their intentions: Realise that a manipulator manipulates only to achieve power and advancement in the workforce. Their behaviour towards you will change over time depending on how useful you are to them. Don’t let this get to you, this is a reflection on them. 
  • Document conversations: To avoid gaslighting or further manipulation, make sure to email all offline conversations you’ve had, asking to clarify the points you’ve discussed. It is always good to have a record where possible. 

Make sure not to ignore toxic people (as this can be seen as toxic) and instead implement the strategies above to remain professional at all times.

It’s worth noting toxic people try to bring others down to their level so they also feel miserable but do not let them. Rise above it and adjust your focus onto yourself and how you can improve every day.

How can you detach from a toxic work environment?

9 useful tips

Lastly, when dealing with toxic people at work all day, sometimes we tend to take it home with us.

Although we want to be positive, it can be hard sometimes. Below are some useful strategies to help you shake off the day and adjust your focus.

How to unwind after a stressful day at work
  1. Engage in physical activity: This looks different for everyone but you could try going for a walk, doing pilates or even stretching. Studies have shown that regular exercise is a great way to de-stress and build emotional resilience (Childs & de Wit, 2014).
  2. Meditate: There are many studies that have proven meditation is a great way to relieve stress (Carney & Robertson, 2022). Meditation helps you to focus in on the present moment and release any negative thoughts that might be lingering from the day. I find this to be the most useful tool for myself! You can find my top five recommended meditation apps here (coming soon…).
  3. Unwind with hobbies: Do something that you enjoy and completely immerse yourself in it! Maybe you love to cook, knit, or dance around the house while listening to music. Whatever it is, make sure it sparks joy.
  4. Don’t read work emails: If you can avoid it, DO NOT READ YOUR WORK EMAILS AT HOME! It only takes that one negative email to set you off into a negative spiral. It’s healthy to create boundaries between work and home life so this one is important!
  5. Talk about it: Call up a friend, family member or even therapist to help you express your experience. This will help validate your thoughts and feelings about this toxic persons behaviours and can reduce the intensity of your feelings (Kuo et al., 2022).
  6. Focus on gratitude: Get a journal and start writing down all the things you’re grateful for and what was good about your day. This can help shift your focus so it aligns with more positive thinking and may improve mental health (Komase et al., 2021).
  7. Practice self-compassion: Know that dealing with toxic people is hard and you are doing the best you can to deal with it. Treat yourself with tenderness and care while you work through this difficult situation.
  8. Seek closure: If you can, try to address any unresolved issues on the same day they arise. If that’s not possible, write down key points you want to discuss on a piece of paper and park it there for the night. This can help you feel more confident going into the conversation the next day but also allows you to adjust your focus onto something else for the rest of the night. *Tip: Try to have the conversation first thing in the morning so it doesn’t overwhelm you throughout the day.
  9. Create a relaxing evening routine: Incorporate calming activities like a warm bath, a skincare routine or reading to help you unwind from the day. Avoid bright screens before bedtime.

Lastly, if nothing seems to work maybe consider if you are in the right environment. Are you fulfilled and happy where you are? Do you desire an alternative career? Do you think you would flourish somewhere else? 

Food for thought.

Until next time,

Greta 


For more useful blog posts about relationships make sure to check out our relationships page.

References:

Carney, J., & Robertson, C. (2022). Five studies evaluating the impact on mental health and mood of recalling, reading, and discussing fiction. PloS one17(4), e0266323. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0266323 

Childs, E., & de Wit, H. (2014). Regular exercise is associated with emotional resilience to acute stress in healthy adults. Frontiers in Physiology5, 161. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2014.00161

Komase, Y., Watanabe, K., Hori, D., Nozawa, K., Hidaka, Y., Iida, M., Imamura, K., & Kawakami, N. (2021). Effects of gratitude intervention on mental health and well-being among workers: A systematic review. Journal of Occupational Health63(1), e12290. https://doi.org/10.1002/1348-9585.12290

Kuo, J. R., Fitzpatrick, S., Ip, J., & Uliaszek, A. (2022). The who and what of validation: an experimental examination of validation and invalidation of specific emotions and the moderating effect of emotion dysregulation. Borderline Personality Disorder and Emotion Dysregulation9(1), 15. 10.1186/s40479-022-00185-x


Disclaimer: The tips provided in this blog post are intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as professional or life advice. Dealing with toxic individuals in the workplace can vary depending on individual circumstances, and readers are encouraged to seek personalised guidance or support if needed. The author and publisher of this blog disclaim any liability for actions taken based on the information provided herein.

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