The best way to deal with toxic colleagues in the workplace
Having trouble with a difficult coworker? There are other options besides giving up. You have to keep in mind that we have all encountered them in the workplace: the tyrannical boss, the person who puts you down to get better, the passive aggressive coworker.
In the process of going back to the office over the last 18 months, it’s been one of the things that has helped us all understand the humanity of bullies and bad bosses.
Little by little the world in all countries was waking up to “Back to work” (while what this means is being discussed furiously, since it seems that nobody knows exactly what it is yet), but there are many rumors in the air about the “toxic colleagues” and a reluctance to re-engage with them.
The real issue is how you feel about the people you will have to spend time with.
And what are the situations that arise with co-workers and you ask yourself the following questions?:
a) are they great because you can brainstorm with them as you head to a well ventilated and sanitized bar area for a Thursday night drink?
b) Are they an inevitability that must be tolerated?
c) Are they totally toxic? And if they are, what is the best way to avoid them in this post-pandemic world?
Social psychologist Tessa West’s new book Jerks At Work: Toxic Coworkers and What To Do About Them speaks squarely to the fear that c) is the only honest answer. West identifies the worst offenders as the Bulldozer (Experienced and well-connected, this personality type has a talent for making power players wonder “what happened in that meeting.” Questioning the process, rather than the outcome, is best way to move the needle on group decisions they don’t like), the Gaslighter (Gaslighters are expert social perceivers who believe that people of lesser status can be used as a means to an end. They spend a lot of time selecting victims and have a knack for astute at spotting red flags that suggest a potential victim is suspicious of their behavior. If you’re chosen by a Gaslighter, their lies will start out small. They work their way up to the big stuff) and the Credit-Stealer (the credit stealer) ( that they are clever opportunists.They wait for the moments of ambiguity, moments when no one is keeping track of who said what, to pounce and steal. As during meetings (not after) is critical to assigning credit accurately. Memories fade and credit thieves take advantage of our biased recollection of events. When your ideas come out of their mouths, you stick them to them and not to you). But both this author and other experts who have addressed this issue always list the different ways to deal with them and outwit them.
Meanwhile, in another timely book “The Man Who Mistook His Work For Her Life” by therapist Naomi Shragai blames our professional miseries on our inability to face our personal histories. The worst offenses of workplace culture, she argues, stem from the fact that so many of us inadvertently act on long-buried childhood grievances and wounds. If we could better understand psychological motivation, we would be more forgiving. It is a guide on how to prosper at work leaving our emotional baggage behind.
It’s less about where and how we work and more about “who we are” with each other
There is a truth revealed by these two books that is lost in the narrative about the pandemic and work. It’s less about where and how we work and more about “who we are” with each other. If the haters are going to hate, then the toxic ones are definitely going to. And they’re going to do it either on Zoom or WhatsApp, talking about you with your boss virtually or in real life, in or out of the office. To think otherwise is to deceive ourselves.
The myth of working from home
A kind of comforting myth emerged early in the pandemic that by working from home, we were magically avoiding the worst of work. And for many people that meant avoiding the worst people. Do you hate your boss? You just had to put yourself in a “not available” situation. After all, they couldn’t go to your site and find you physically, right? At least for a while, at that moment you didn’t feel like doing it.
But these things work for a few hours or a few days. But they don’t work after two years, let alone indefinitely. And there comes a point where you have to think: “Is everyone else annoying? Or am I the common factor here?
Of course, if someone is genuinely toxic, their behavior should be reported and dealt with. But if that’s not appropriate, then the only behavior that can be changed is your own. No permutation of geography, location, or work habits can protect you from toxic personalities.
These people are everywhere. Is it easier if you don’t have to rub shoulders on a daily basis? As a self-employed person, you can tell yourself this: only marginally. All work involves some kind of human contact at some point. And many work interactions, in the office or online, will lead to disagreements and displays of ego.
How one “toxic” employee can harm the entire team
Look around any organization and chances are you can find at least one person whose negative behavior affects the rest of the group to varying degrees. So much so, say two University of Washington researchers, that these “bad apples” are like a virus to your computers and can disrupt or mess up your entire apple cart.
The researchers’ article, appearing in Research in Organizational Behavior, examines how, when, and why negative member behaviors can have a powerful and often detrimental influence on teams and groups.
How coworkers can affect conflict in the workplace
William Felps, a doctoral student at the UW School of Business and lead author of the study, was inspired to investigate how coworkers can affect workplace conflict and citizenship after his wife experienced the phenomenon of the “bad apple”.
A cold and hostile environment
Felps’s wife was unhappy at work and characterized the environment as cold and hostile. Then, she said, a funny thing happened. One of his co-workers, who was particularly caustic and always made fun of other people in the office, contracted an illness that forced him to be absent for several days.
The office atmosphere changed drastically
“And when she left, my wife said the atmosphere in the office changed dramatically,” Felps said. “People started helping each other, playing classical music on their radios and going out for drinks after work.”
He had a deep and negative impact
But when he returned to the office, things were just as unpleasant as before. She had not realized that this employee was a very important person in the office before he contracted this disease, but, observing the social environment when he was not around, she came to believe that he had a profound and negative impact. He really was the “bad apple” that spoiled the barrel. ”
Two dozen published studies were reviewed
They especially focused on those in which reference was made to how teams and groups of employees interact
Following his wife’s experience, Felps, along with Terence Mitchell, a professor of management and organization at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, analyzed about two dozen published studies that, in addition to looking at the interaction of teams and employees , specifically they were considering how to have bad teammates, a situation that can destroy a good team.
Felps and Mitchell define negative people as those who don’t do their fair share of work
That they are chronically unhappy and emotionally unstable, or that they bully or attack others. They discovered that a single “toxic” or negative team member can be the catalyst for downward spirals in organizations. In a follow-up study, the researchers found that the vast majority of people surveyed could identify at least one “bad apple” that had led to organizational dysfunction.
Work groups with more interaction
They reviewed a variety of work settings in which tasks and assignments were performed by small groups of employees whose jobs were interdependent or required extensive interaction between them. They specifically studied smaller groups because they generally require more interaction between members and are generally less tolerant of negative behaviors. Members of smaller groups are also more likely to respond to or speak up about a group member’s negative behavior. The two looked at how groups of about five to 15 employees in industries like manufacturing, fast food, and university settings were affected by the presence of a negative member.
For example, in a study of around 50 manufacturing teams, they found that teams that had an unpleasant or irresponsible member were much more likely to have conflicts, miscommunicate within the team, and refuse to cooperate with each other. Consequently, the teams performed poorly.
“Most organizations don’t have very effective ways to handle the problem,” Mitchell said. “This is especially true when the problematic employee has longevity, experience, or power. Companies must move quickly to deal with such problems because negativity from a single individual is pervasive and destructive and can spread quickly.”
According to Felps, group members will react to a negative member in one of three ways:
– Motivational intervention.
– Defensive attitude.
In the first scenario, members will voice their concerns and ask the person to change their behavior, and if unsuccessful, the negative member may be removed or rejected.
If the motivational intervention or rejection is successful, the negative member never becomes a “bad apple” and the “barrel” of employees is saved. Both of these options, however, require teammates to have some power: when they don’t have enough power, teammates get frustrated, distracted, and defensive.
Common defensive mechanisms employees use to deal with a “bad apple” include denial, social withdrawal, anger, anxiety, and fear. Trust in the team deteriorates, and as the group loses its positive culture, members become physically and psychologically separated from the team.
Felps and Mitchell also found that negative behavior outweighs positive behavior—that is, one “bad apple” can spoil the barrel, but one or two good workers can’t mess it up again.
Coping with negativity
“People don’t expect negative events and behaviors, so when we see them, we pay attention to them, reflect on them, and generally try to marshal all our resources to deal with the negativity in some way,” Mitchell said. “Good behavior doesn’t stand out as much as negative behavior.”
The authors caution that there is a difference between “bad apples” and employees who think outside the box and challenge the status quo. Since these “positive deviations” move the ship, they may not always be appreciated. And, as Felps and Mitchell argue, unlike “bad apples,” “positive deviations” actually help drive organizational innovation.
So how can companies avoid experiencing the “bad apple” phenomenon?
“Managers of companies, particularly those where employees often work in teams, need to be especially careful when hiring new employees,” Felps said. “This would include checking references and administering personality tests so that those who have too little agreeableness, emotional stability or conscientiousness are weeded out.”
But, he added, if you run away from selection, companies should put you in a position where you work alone as much as possible. Or, alternatively, there may be no choice but to let these people go.
Toxic Personalities: A Poison in the Workplace
Toxic personalities create stress that ripples throughout the organization. And so, the question that middle managers and executives who are part of the top management should ask themselves is what are the skills that employees can develop to survive and even change toxic people?
As we usually do from OUR EDITORIAL STAFF, we have gone out to see what you can control. If you have the authority to act on people with toxic personalities, it is your responsibility to change their behavior or remove them from the workplace. But it may happen that you do not have the authority to do so, but still in these circumstances, there are steps you can take to strengthen yourself and even change their behavior.
Also, if you can’t change the conditions of working with toxic personalities in any way, you might consider changing jobs. Dealing with the daily stress of working with difficult people is painful and can take a toll on your mental and physical health.
Anger: Acting in anger can make the problem worse
The person with a toxic personality may become offended and defensive. They see you (your actions or personality) as the problem in the relationship.
On the other hand, you must prepare to be firm
Toxic behavior can be successfully treated by confronting a person with the facts and consequences of their actions. However, changing a person’s personality is difficult.
The process requires more than showing the facts of her behavior. Personality change, especially with toxic personalities, requires a commitment from the person to the problem.
Skills to survive or even grow around toxic personalities.
When you can’t fight them, don’t join them. However, you can make the environment healthier.
When you can’t change the behavior of toxic people
When you can’t change the behavior of these toxic personalities or avoid them altogether, you need to focus on the changes you can make in yourself to become a healthier person.
Some issues to keep in mind that help deal with toxic people
1º) Write about your feelings
When you write about your feelings, you are in a way cutting the sting of painful emotions. In doing so, that is, when you are detailing your emotions, you are also naming your feelings. We are talking about fear, anger, anxiety, insecurity and resentment, which are all common feelings that people have towards toxic people. You may have other bad feelings. When you experience these feelings, it is good that you write about them.
2º) Write about your actions
In this step, you can see what things you can change in your own behavior to reduce the damage in a toxic relationship. For example, if you act in anger, you can change your actions.
3º) Discuss what you are feeling with your mentor
One of the problems with writing about your feelings is that you have a hard time finding solutions. Instead, you can focus on how people have hurt you.
However, if you have close friends you can trust, these people keep what you tell them a secret. These friends are mentors who show you how you can grow and improve your behavior.
4º) Avoid poison
When you can’t change the behavior of toxic people, you should avoid them. If there’s no reason to have to deal with them, you shouldn’t.
How to deal with toxic personalities in your workplace
It is almost a general rule that we have all had to deal with a toxic person at work at some time or another. While the good news is that you’ve never come across this less-than-fun experience, the good news is that in the event of such a situation, you can make a proactive decision about how to handle it.
When faced with a troubled coworker, you can take the approach of a thoughtful professional who said, “I am thankful for all the difficult people in my life. They have shown me exactly who I don’t want to be.”
There is a lot of research that has been done in recent years on this problem. Some of them say that three out of four employees report that dealing with their boss is the worst and most stressful part of their job. And surprisingly, two-thirds say they would gladly take on a new boss for a raise. And the question that immediately arises is: if bosses are really so bad, why do the organizations that employ them tolerate them?
Bad bosses and high performance
In some cases, bad bosses are themselves high performers—high-level salespeople or designers of innovative products, for example—and the powerful fear that the company’s bottom line will suffer if they lose them. So, they do what they can not to lose them.
In other cases, it is a matter of inertia. Unless an organization is falling apart because of the bad boss (sometimes it is!), then dealing with the problem is not a priority.
In other words, it is only when the organization begins to lose people who are important to daily operations and who are not easy to replace, will management address the issue of the bad boss.
By then, the damage may already be done. As Gallup discovered, bad bosses are the number one reason people quit their jobs.
The most common characteristics of toxic personalities at work
We’ve all worked with someone who complains about their job, their company, their boss, their co-workers, their customers, or anyone else they can blame for a problem, real or imagined. Complainers take the life out of an organization and, if tolerated by management, can spawn other complainers.
Some people are just plain mean, and when you come across a traitor at work, you have to constantly look over your shoulder to make sure you’re not going to be the next victim. This continuous source of distraction has a tremendously negative impact on employee engagement and effectiveness.
One of the things that makes bad bosses bad is when they micromanage the people who work for them. In fact, a survey of 3,000 professionals by LinkedIn Learning found that micromanaging was the second most frustrating trait they experienced in a manager.
What are the most productive first two or three steps when dealing with a toxic coworker or boss?
– Disconnect from the emotions you feel because they will cloud your judgment about a situation.
– Determine exactly what the toxic person is doing to get a reaction from you.
– Refuse to play along.
-Confront the toxic person and let him know that you will not tolerate bad behavior from him.
– Stand up for yourself and be brave. If you do, others will follow your example.
Managing conflict in the workplace is a common challenge
When you have two or more people in an organization, you have the seeds of conflict. Conflict management can become almost a full-time job for leaders.
When you have to deal with a conflict in your own organization, you must first be objective. IMPORTANT: You should not make any judgments until you have the full story from all parties and never take sides.
The most important thing when managing a conflict due to problems of a toxic personality is to remain neutral. So you need to identify the different emotions at play among conflicting employees and the underlying needs that drive them.
You need to help your people see and understand the negative impact they are having on their coworkers, then help them find common ground to resolve the conflict.
Steps to take for a toxic person to make a positive change
There are steps you can take to confront a toxic coworker or boss in a way that is likely to bring about positive change rather than just make bad behavior worse.
First of all, you have to disconnect from the emotions you feel every time the toxic person does his thing with you. Bring up the behavior, privately, one by one, and don’t brush it off.
If it’s a manager, you should explain the negative effect the person is having on the organization and ask them to stop the toxic behavior. If you do, great, not all toxic employees are aware of their bad behavior. If it doesn’t, you may need to involve human resources to begin progressive discipline.
If the toxic person in your organization is your boss, take him aside and explain to him the negative effect his behavior is having on the organization and on you personally. If you can’t or won’t stop, consider moving to a different part of the organization or leaving it entirely.
Many people seem to allow themselves to offend or “provoke” the behavior of other people
How can people increase their own awareness to avoid falling into the victim or easy offender trap?
Some toxic people are good at causing discomfort and/or a reaction from their coworkers. They are really good at it. Therefore, we must avoid the victim’s trap that begins with realizing the effect it has on any employee, when the toxic person starts out.
If this toxic personality feels angry or frustrated when dealing with a particular person in the organization, why is that so? Are you pushing your buttons like it’s an automatic behavior? In some cases, however, victims don’t see the effect these people have on them, they just react, which is exactly the behavior the toxic person expects. If you refuse to play his game, he will eventually get bored and move on.
There is almost always a toxic person in the teams and/or departments
It doesn’t happen in every company or in every function, but you always have to be prepared for that person who has nothing positive to say, who irritates other team members and makes work life unpleasant.
If that person can’t be fired, how do you respond to their behavior? What kind of feedback do you give? How to mitigate the damage caused by this employee?
Verify the reasons why complaining personalities complain
No matter what you say or do to support him, the complainer is a disinterested employee who is never satisfied. Complainers not only don’t agree with what’s going on, they don’t even try to understand the issues at hand.
So when you have to deal with complainers, whiners, and grumps, remember that there are often two sides to every story. Sit down with the complainers and see if there is a deeper problem that is bothering them. You must be empathetic and professional. Ask them what makes them unhappy. In that same conversation, ask them what they like about their jobs.
Keep in mind that the first time you have this talk, there may not be enough confidence in you to share the real story. But don’t give up. There are no quick fixes in the work environment that lead to long-term change. Therefore, you should not give up and do not give up. Do what you can to help your employees win.
The excuse maker
No matter what they are supposed to do, these employees always have an excuse for why they can’t complete a task. Anyone who has ever played sports or participated in a competitive team activity will tell you that an excuse maker can kill a team. It’s the same in the workplace. These toxic employees never take responsibility for their actions and decisions. And their lack of enthusiasm to complete tasks or participate with the team does a lot of damage.
There’s nothing more demoralizing than a teammate who doesn’t live up to his part of the bargain and leaves his teammates hanging instead of being held accountable.
When it comes to an excuse maker, you have to create the kind of psychologically safe culture where this employee feels good and tells you the real state of work projects. Make sure all employees know that the bottom line is what matters and that help is available to those who ask for it. However, it is up to the employee to seek help. If not, the consequences will happen.
The unenthusiastic employee
These workers never seem to get excited about any part of their jobs. When employees are unhappy with a situation, they tend to lack enthusiasm. When employees go offline, they probably don’t care about the tasks they need to complete. It stands to reason that not all jobs can be fun, but is there anything that can be done to take the tedium out of the task?
To manage apathy, keep an eye on your employees and look for things that light them up. Observe what they like to do. What are your strengths? Introduce them to books and training programs to help them discover their strengths and what they are good at.
Also, look at your company culture and do things that improve it and make it a more engaging and fun place to work.
The useless worker
Disengaged employees often like to be alone. When the time comes to offer help, they often choose not to. It’s not that they don’t like the people around them. It’s more that they don’t want to help because they feel like they’re better off doing their thing.
To engage non-helping workers more, try adding team building activities that encourage them to collaborate with colleagues on special projects. When you see useless employees helping others, give them credit for their efforts. Catch them in the act of doing the right thing by acknowledging them and they will probably be more willing to help others.
Rumors and comments about other people
People who gossip constantly are not the type to talk about ideas; instead, they like to talk negatively about people. Toxic employees tend to talk about other people and spread bad vibes in the office. They never let the truth ruin a good story. The best way to deal with these personalities is to nip them in the bud. If they come to you with a juicy comment, ask them, “Would it be okay if we go to the other person and ask if it’s true and can I use your name?”
Or you could say, “Let’s go together and ask Mary about this.” If it really is a rumor, there is no way this employee will agree to confirm the story. Let employees know that you will not tolerate gossip in the workplace.
For whatever reason, liars find it easy to lie to get out of situations or avoid things. Worse still is when they lie about doing a task. A toxic mix of lies and excuses can quickly destroy an office. And, when you have multiple employees doing this, it can be terrible for your company culture. When dealing with liars, make sure you have the facts in front of you of what was supposed to happen and what actually happened. By confronting a liar with facts, you will help him to be more responsible.
The know it all
There is nothing worse than a person who is talented and tends to act like he is above everyone else. A know-it-all attitude can cause considerable damage within a workplace because it upsets and annoys people. (There’s a reason some of the best leaders in the world are strong and humble.) Sometimes smarties lack confidence and try to pretend they are better than they are. They need to be made aware that their behavior is alienating their co-workers and steps need to be taken to get them to take the proper training to help.
The independent employee
We often praise companies for having freelancers who succeed and do things on their own. In some cases, however, people are not really engaged and try to work independently of others, which can be bad news for everyone. Freelancers probably aren’t doing as much work and are instead spending a lot of time slacking off.
In this situation, management should try to ask for more results from the independents to build momentum to improve it. Find ways to involve these employees in team projects. Ask them about the part of their job they enjoy and help them do more of it. That is why you have to explain their responsibilities in detail and make them responsible for carrying out their projects.
The irresponsible worker
Irresponsible workers have their fair share of times when they are doing careless things at work. They forget to call in sick, they arrive smelling like last night’s party, they arrive late. This type of repeated irresponsibility is unacceptable and it is important to make these employees aware that their negligent behavior is killing the team. You have to ask them to improve their behavior. If their behavior doesn’t change, the company may be forced to use a progressive discipline process, so they are aware that there are consequences for bad behavior.
Employee without initiative
This worker is someone who shows no initiative to take charge of a project or be a leader within the office. They are fine with being inconspicuous and often don’t mind not having a voice. To deal with these lackadaisical employees, it’s important to remind them that an office is a community, and when someone lacks initiative and doesn’t contribute, it brings down the entire team. There is no real way to fix a person’s psyche, however some motivational tactics can be used to make these employees more excited about their jobs.
So how do you confront someone about unacceptable passive-aggressive behavior?
Be honest and tell the person directly (but not in harsh or dramatic terms) how you are affecting their behavior. Try to focus each person on themselves and their feelings instead of on the other person. For example, instead of saying “you sabotaged our project at work,” try saying “I realized our project wasn’t the best and I want us to make sure it’s better next time.” When you tell someone that their behavior is hurting you, they are likely to deny everything.
Remember that passive-aggressive people don’t like to talk about their feelings. They certainly don’t want you to call their attention. Stick to the facts and give examples, but be prepared for resistance and denial. Try to be understanding.
A passive-aggressive person may harbor feelings of low self-esteem
Feelings that make it difficult to communicate what you really feel effectively. Talking together can help you understand the possible roots of passive-aggressive behavior if the person is willing to open up a bit and you are willing to suspend your judgmental action, instead making an effort to understand.