How to fix a toxic work relationship
Working with toxic people is a fact of life in many jobs. You can’t pick your colleagues, you just have to figure out how to work together to get the job done. So, how do you spot a toxic person and how can you handle it so that you aren’t negatively affected by their behaviors?
Toxic work environments can have a serious effect on your health and your career advancement. And sometimes your workplace has some major problems that you cannot overcome. In that case, your best bet is to leave – as soon as possible. But in the meantime, you’ll need some advice and tactics that can help you cope.
Your first step is to identify the irrational behavior that can derail your career. Here are some of the more common toxic personality types that you might encounter on the job:
- THE COMPLAINER: This is the person who’s always seeing the glass as half-empty. Nothing is ever good enough or satisfactory and he/she is quite vocal about his/her displeasure. This behavior has a negative effect on everyone around them and can really bring down the morale of the entire team.
- What you can do: Be positive and realistic about what’s happening. You don’t have to agree with the complainer, but you can acknowledge their complaint and ask them what they think is a solution that will work. It also helps to define your boundaries and avoid engaging with them unless it’s absolutely necessary to get the work done.
- THE KNOW-IT-ALL: These folks are happy to let you know exactly where you’re going wrong with everything you do. They love to feel superior.
- What you can do: Since they like to feel appreciated, use what they know to help you get your job done when you need it. You can even thank them for their help, but it doesn’t help to challenge them on the facts. Avoid them if possible, but use their information when needed.
- THE BULLY: These people love to use aggression and hostility to get what they want. They try to control everyone and everything around them.
- What you can do: Stand your ground and be firm. Don’t allow them to interrupt you when you’re speaking and let them know when you don’t agree with them. Show them you’re not intimidated by their behavior.
- THE DRAMA QUEEN/KING: This is the person who thrives on chaos and attention. No matter what happens, it’s the worst thing ever and they live for the sympathy they get.
- What you can do: Again, set some boundaries. Let them know that you are not interested in participating in re-hashing the drama and move on to something else. Avoid being a shoulder to cry on and be firm about it.
- THE BLAME DEFLECTOR: This person is always blaming others for their problems. They never take responsibility for mistakes like being late, not meeting goals, etc. They love playing the victim and never step up.
- What you can do: Don’t play their game. Speak up for yourself when a problem occurs and don’t allow the Blame Deflector to cause your team to suffer for his/her mistakes.
- THE NEEDS TO BE RIGHT'ER: Whether it makes any sense, is true or is even possible, the need to be right trumps all. They will argue the smallest point forever, until you finally give in from exhaustion.
- What you can do: Avoid getting “into it” with this person at all costs. There’s no way to win and there’s no point to starting a fight. These people are happy to fabricate situations or lie to be proven right no matter what you think or feel.
- THE SNIPER: Snipers love to undermine you with “disguised” humor and snarky remarks. They are destructive and underhanded, often critical of you and your team members.
- What you can do: Take them aside to discuss an issue so they can’t turn it against you in front of your team. Ask them to come to you directly when they have a problem and not to air sarcastic remarks in front of everyone.
- THE SELFISH ONE: This is the person who can never work an extra shift, is always asking for help, can never help anyone else and is totally focused on themselves, even when it inconveniences others.
- What can you do: It’s not really worth appealing to their better nature… all you can do is minimize your exposure to them. Avoid being in their space so they can’t ask for favors, and let him/her fend for himself to do the job.
Once you’ve identified the toxic behavior, most of the time your best bet is to set boundaries and avoid this person as much as possible. Stick to what’s important to you and don’t let them erode your positivity. It can be helpful to keep a record of everything that happens in case you need proof of events down the road. It may not help, but it can’t hurt – documentation is powerful.
Whatever you do, don’t share any confidences with a toxic person and don’t participate in workplace gossip. You have to expect that whatever you say will be repeated in a negative light. Be as polite and honest as you can and keep your own standards, even when dealing with difficult colleagues.
Finally – be firm. Don’t indulge toxic people. If they don’t get what they want, they will try all manner of manipulation, so be prepared. Avoid them as much as possible and always take the high road.