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Toxic work colleagues and how to handle them

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Many of us spend more time with our work colleagues than with our families and unfortunately, some of those co-workers are toxic work colleagues. They can make our lives a misery with their unreasonable and irrational behavior and approach. Having to deal with toxic work colleagues can take its toll on our emotions, morale and cause a tremendous amount of stress leaving us drained at the end of the day.

Many toxic work colleagues defy all reasonable attempts at compromise and collaboration, they don’t take on feedback and sometimes intensify their campaign of toxicity if they feel threatened. They are often so self consumed that they are not aware and neither do they care about the effect they’re having on their co-workers. Toxic work colleagues can fall into a number of categories:

being at the extreme end of the scale.

being less extreme but more common and still a real challenge to deal with.

So what can you do?

Rather then trying to shift the toxic work colleague’s way of thinking or behaving, which is often a waste your time and energy, try some of these strategies.

  1. Distance yourself

Emotionally and physically if possible. Being around negative or aggressive people can impact your own mood and resilience. So, if at all possible, try to emotionally distance yourself from toxic work colleagues by trying not to take their behavior personally – it has everything to do with them and nothing to do with you. Stay focused on your work and avoid giving them air time as much as possible. Physical distancing can mean wearing headphones if you can, sitting in meeting rooms more of the time to get your work done, asking to move desks/teams, avoiding unnecessary contact eg at lunch.

  1. Don’t give them ammunition

The last thing you want is to antagonize difficult people. Volatile and destructive rants from them will only worsen the situation. Learn their triggers and don’t set them off. Always be factual and don’t let personal information slip around them.

  1. Prioritise self care.

If you’re feeling confident, healthy, rested, etc., you’ll be in a better position to handle challenging colleagues. Practice mindfulness and meditation to calm your thoughts and emotions. Meditating regularly has been proven to reduce reactivity and stress levels. Eat healthily and exercise to release those feel good endorphins too.

  1. Play the game

Another option is to play the game – if you can’t beat them, join them. This doesn’t have to mean that you become as toxic as they are but things like ‘playing to their ego’ may be beneficial in the short term. Psychopaths, narcissists and manipulators love praise and compliments so you can keep them on side by giving them to them.

  1. Set boundaries.

Decide what you will and won’t tolerate from your toxic work colleagues eg. If their negativity doesn’t directly affect you, let it go but if they’re being negative about your ideas and opinions, give them some constructive feedback about the impact of their behavior. You might even want to think about filing a complaint for the more toxic colleagues when all your attempts at resolution have failed.

  1. Stay positive

Toxic work colleagues can get in your head. So, remember to help yourself stay positive by being grateful for the things you do have. Think about everything you enjoy about your job, go for a walk at lunchtime, phone a friend who can pep you up if things get bad. Gratitude makes us happier. Practicing it intentionally is a great way to combat toxicity.

  1. When the day is done, let it go

You probably aren’t going to be able to change the toxic person you’re dealing with at work. So, when the workday is done, get them out of your head. Focus on more positive and important things.

     8. Prepare for your next move

Sometimes the only resort is to move teams, departments, or even organisations which is galling as it’s not you that’s the problem. At the end of the day our own mental health and self esteem is more important than anything else so start networking, looking on SEEK or preparing your resume so that if and when an opportunity arises, you’re ready.

There is no easy answer when it comes to dealing effectively with toxic work colleagues, help yourself as much as possible by trying out some of the strategies mentioned.

If you’d like more information or training on dealing with difficult personalities contact and check out this article on how emotionally intelligent people handle toxic people.


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JEM Management Training

JEM Management Training designs and delivers flexible, in-house management training courses to help  organisations in Perth engage their staff fully in the workplace.

As time is often limited, JEM Training offers flexible half-day management training courses which focus on a specific area of management expertise. These short courses build upon each other over a period of time, chosen by you, to provide ongoing management development.

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