They say you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family — or your co-workers.
In just about every workplace scenario there is at least one person you find difficult, maybe even impossible, to deal with. Depending upon your job and upon your personality, this toxic person can make your time at work miserable.
Toxic co-workers can exhibit many different traits and can try to undermine you in various ways. At first, you may find yourself drawn to the person and may even establish a friendship until you slowly find it is a destructive relationship. Toxic people can make us feel bad about ourselves, our place of employment, our boss and our other co-workers. They do it through gossip, critical comments and other forms of negativity.
Outside of the office, you can just shut down contact with poisonous people. By not returning their calls, social media messages or texts, you can avoid them. But what can you do if you work with them and have to encounter them every workday?
Here are five ways to handle toxic people at work:
Change your routine.
Is a co-worker always seeking you out at lunch or at break-time to dump the latest office gossip or some other negativity on you? Try to keep your contact with this person to a minimum by changing your routine. Try going for walk at lunchtime or skipping coffee break to avoid running into that individual.
If you do get pulled into a conversation, try to keep it a brief. Listen politely with as little reaction as possible and then mention that you have to get back to work.
Some toxic people will call you out on this change and directly ask you if you are avoiding them. Do not let yourself be drawn into a confrontation. Simply state that you are behind in your work. You can even say you have made being more organized or following a more regular work schedule one of your New Year’s resolutions, if you like.
What if your desk is right beside someone who is constantly criticizing you and everyone else? Some toxic people are drawn to empathetic listeners. They get fuel from you listening to their tirades, but while they feel better after getting their comments off their chests, you feel terrible. You have tried to listen. You have tried to encourage. Nothing works.
Do not allow yourself to be a victim here. As politely as possible, say that you are sorry they feel that way but that you do not agree. Use body language to convey that you are getting back to work. If the person keeps talking, stay calm. Smile. Repeat that you are sorry but that you have to get back to work. If you need to be more direct, you can say, “I am not interested in talking about this.” Walk away if you need to.
When you are both unruffled and uninterested in what they have to say, these types of toxic people tend to move on to someone else.
Many toxic people will try to draw you into an argument or challenge you to say things you don’t want to say. Don’t rise to the bait.
Stick to the facts in any conversation and avoid sharing opinions that will be used against you later. It is impossible to try to rationalize with toxic people, according to Marsha Petrie Sue, author of Toxic People: Decontaminate Difficult People at Work without Using Weapons or Duct Tape. “So many of us complain about this person or that person, this toxic group or that difficult boss,” she writes. “However, it’s not about people. It’s truly about us and how we choose to manage ourselves and the situation.”
Sue writes that as you learn to take control of a toxic work situation, you will gain more self-confidence and encounter less unpleasant situations in the future.
Enlist help from co-workers
Chances are you are not the only person who feels a co-worker is poisonous to be around. Without getting into a gossip situation about the matter, enlist the help of like-minded co-workers to free yourself from a negative situation.
“The secret to dealing with irrational people lies in knowing their rules. Everything people do, no matter how crazy it seems, follows some system of rules,” advises Albert J. Bernstein in his book Dinosaur Brains: Dealing with All Those Impossible People at Work. “The problem I see professionally over and over is that is that people who are creative in other areas don’t realize they can use the same creativity in dealing with people at work.
Does a toxic person tend to leave work with you at the same time and walk out with you? Ask another co-worker to meet you at the exit. Sometimes having a third party present will diffuse the situation.
Make better choices.
In his book No B.S. Time Management, Dan S. Kennedy explains that who we spend time with has much to do with how successful we become. It is difficult for many of us to say no to others. We like to be liked. We have been taught to be kind. However, Kennedy asserts that by letting negative people drain your time and drag you down emotionally, you can be sabotaging your own career.
Small business owners and entrepreneurs can be especially susceptible to people who waste your time. Get into the habit of excusing yourself from conversations that turn negative. Learn to be choosy about with whom you spend your time. Distance yourself from those people who bring you down.
Surround yourself with positive people who challenge you to be better at what you do.