How Successful People Handle 3 Types of Toxic Coworkers

Feb 24, 2018 at 12:00 p.m. ET
Image: Hero Images/Getty Images

By Melody Wilding

Every workplace is filled interesting personalities — including frustrating ones.

If you feel like you're surrounded by difficult people at the office — perhaps people who talk too much or a micromanaging boss — take heart, because you're not alone. Studies have found that 1 in 8 people leave a job due to problems with coworkers.

Since we spend more time at work than at home (and quitting tomorrow isn't an option for most people), it's worthwhile to figure out ways to get along.

Positive coping strategies may not only save your sanity, but they can also improve your well-being more than complaining ever will. In fact, learning to deal with difficult people can be a powerful way to develop your leadership skills.

More: How to Motivate Employees in 3 Surprisingly Simple Steps

Here are some strategies: 

Type 1: The coworker who hits you up on Slack to chat about office politics

Gossip is a compensatory strategy often used to cover low self-esteem or feelings of powerlessness. It’s likely your coworker is communicating this way — albeit passive-aggressively and manipulatively — to seek connection.

Nonetheless, hanging around gossiping coworkers is energy-draining. Plus, getting embroiled in rumormongering can damage your professional reputation.

To disengage from this toxic cycle, use a simple formula: empathize and redirect.

First, validate your coworker, letting them know they're being heard. By saying something like, "Ugh, it is frustrating to feel confused," you're not agreeing with or justifying their behavior, you're simply mirroring how they feel without getting involved or talking about other people. Your focus is on them, which is probably their favorite subject anyway.

You can then use redirection, including focusing on positives. “Sorry that’s still bothering you. For now, let’s talk about how things are going with the new project" or impose a solution-based boundary like, "You should talk directly with Jim rather than me to solve this."

More: 7 Signs You're Trapped in a Dysfunctional Workplace

Type 2: The coworker who is negative about... well, everything

Coworkers who have a victim mentality act like being busy is a badge of honor. Workaholism isn't healthy, so be careful not to reward or enable their behavior. Keep your own work-life balance in check so you don't enable an office culture obsessed with productivity.

If you're dealing with someone who constantly shoots down ideas in meetings, respond with thought-provoking questions like, "That’s an interesting point. What will help us make sure this project is a success?” This strategically interrupts their critical pattern and creates psychological safety for creative brainstorming.

Type 3: The coworker who gets too close for comfort

When someone's behavior is inappropriate for the workplace — like flirting or remarks about age, appearance or gender — you have to draw a line. The key to establishing and maintaining boundaries is to enforce them immediately and assertively.

That may mean pulling out a go-to phrase like, “Sorry, I have to get back to work,” as soon as you feel a twinge of discomfort instead of letting the inappropriate action happen for longer than it should.

Speak up should matters get out of hand and take the right steps to escalate it to your boss or HR.

More:  The Most Underrated Quality of a Great Boss

Whenever possible, try to first assume positive intent. Everyone at the office, including you, is an imperfect human being. Remembering that we all have strengths and weaknesses can be a good first step toward developing the type of empathy and emotional immunity needed to survive in a less-than-perfect workplace.

Originally published onFairygodboss.

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