Toxicity at Work: Dealing with Difficult Co-Workers | DCR Workforce Blog

Toxicity at Work: Dealing with Difficult Co-Workers

People’s offices are a complex network of personalities. With an already intense workload, trying to manage all these professional relationships can feel like a second full-time job. People bicker, gossip, make rude comments and slack off, but once in a while you’ll encounter an extremely toxic person who is relentless in their viciousness. They know what they’re doing and they seem to be a diabolical genius. So, before you start thinking about leaving your current job, you may want to try to do something to gain some control so you feel better at work. However, if these strategies don’t give way to some sort of relief from the difficult co-worker, you may have to leave.

Dealing with people is extremely challenging because you don’t know what other people think and sometimes people don’t exactly seem rational. There’s a part of most people that wants to get along with everyone, but that just isn’t realistic. Some people don’t care who they disrespect and only want to further their own selfish interests. But before giving up, it’s important to try some methods suggested below to regain some control at work.

Set boundaries

When your enemy is lurking in such close quarters, it’s hard to even vocalize any hint of a problem. Other people in the office might find out and make things worse. But when you feel like things may be heading in a bad direction, you have to speak up. Politely pointing out certain things and how they make you feel will give someone the opportunity to correct their behavior.

If you feel like this person is not getting the hint, you may want to start distancing yourself to create some space. If you have to talk with this person you may have to let them know that you have a lot to do and can only speak for a few moments. If they’re complaining, you may want to ask them how they’re going to deal with this issue. A negative co-worker who is speaking to you in a rude manner might also need to be reminded that it isn’t acceptable to converse in this way. A good technique to end the conservation is to say that you will let the person go for now and try to talk with him or her later when he or she isn’t so upset.

Other things you can do consist of literally physically distancing yourself. For example, you may want to keep busy, go to lunch outside the office and try to hang out with more positive people that don’t interact with this difficult co-worker. You can also change your work schedule so you don’t have to work so much with your toxic co-worker. Even having an office or cubicle away from this person can be an option. All these things are great ways to create some distance and strengthen your boundaries.

Control your emotions

It’s really hard to control yourself when faced with someone who is so negative. You know they’re slowly breaking you down and sometimes a feeling of exploding like a volcano seems to creep up. Don’t give into temptation, stay cool and keep your emotions in check. Lashing out will cost you in the end, and you don’t want to give your power away by sinking to a negative person’s level.

Instead, focus on the facts when involved in a discussion and try to find solutions to problems. This can help you avoid being sucked into drama. In addition, when a toxic co-worker is being rude or incompetent, try asking key questions about his or her behavior. For example, “Why are you raising your voice?” or “Do you know that this is an important project and everyone must submit their work on time?” Sometimes just asking questions will diffuse the situation.

Protect yourself

A difficult co-worker might try to turn the tables on you so make sure you collect proof of inappropriate behavior. Whenever possible, do not talk with this person alone. Try to have a third party with you when you’re talking with or dealing with your toxic co-worker. Note discussions and try to keep any other records like emails or texts. If you have to approach your manager about this person, you should have strong evidence to support your complaint. If your office has a code of conduct, this can be a very valuable resource. You can use the rules and regulations listed in the code of conduct to help stop a difficult co-worker’s inappropriate behavior.

Time to leave

You have filed a complaint with the manager, submitted proof and tolerated your toxic co-worker in a tactful manner. You have maintained your distance and not lost your cool. However, things don’t seem to be getting better. The worst thing that can happen is when you have a legitimate issue with a difficult co-worker and no one deals with or fires this person. Everyone knows this person is bad news but no one has the guts to do anything about it. You feel like you have put yourself out there but nothing is fixing the problem. The toxic co-worker is getting away with their bad behavior.

Unfortunately, the stress of dealing with a difficult person is detrimental to your health. Being subjected to such negativity is emotionally draining and your work will in turn suffer. I know people try to hang in for the long haul, but it’s not worth it if you have to constantly worry about dealing with this person. We all have much more important things to think about and occupy our time. When all avenues are exhausted and the people in your office are not taking your concerns seriously, it is time to move on. It’s not worth your health and dignity.

Have you had to deal with a difficult co-worker? How do you handle toxic people at work?

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Preeta is a writer and a mom who writes about topics that strive to connect with readers in a real way.