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Tricks for Dealing With Toxic Colleagues

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Four out of five employees have worked with a toxic colleague according to recent research from Fierce, Inc, a leadership development and training company. This suggests that toxicity in the workplace is more widespread than you may think.

Even worse, toxic people can obliterate an organization’s carefully crafted culture and send the bottom line plummeting. In fact, a study conducted by Randstad suggests that 38% of people who leave their jobs — or consider leaving their jobs — do so because of the effects of toxicity while 58% leave because of negativity, disrespectful behavior, and office politics.

Nearly everyone will work with a toxic colleague at some point in their career. And they’ll quickly discover that when you’re dealing with toxic colleagues, it’s difficult to prevent the ripple effects of that dynamic from affecting your own work and demeanor. Thankfully, these six tips and tricks can make it easier to cope.

Create Boundaries

There are lots of ways that toxicity presents itself, including rumors, insults, and words. It goes beyond venting. Constant complaining about his or her job, coworkers, team, and boss can leave you feeling drained, with the same negativity seeping into your own pores. If you nicely (but firmly) set limits and create boundaries, it can help alleviate this.

While this may seem daunting at first, consider this: If someone was smoking near you and it bothered you, would you speak up? You could either sit there and inhale secondhand smoke or ask them to not smoke near you. Without speaking up, they'd never know that it was even an issue.

So, don’t hesitate to keep your office door closed. Or to distance yourself. If that doesn’t work, ask your toxic colleague how they're going to handle the situation they're venting about. Hopefully, that'll get them redirected in a more positive direction or quit their complaining.

Be Direct

Sometimes the subtle signals of boundaries and limits aren't enough to keep your toxic colleague from unloading on you. In that case, it helps to be direct. If you're wary of coming off like you're wagging your finger, try taking an office-wide approach to avoid looking like you're blaming just that person. You could say something like, "I know we're all always complaining. Let's try to focus on the positives." Truthfully, your toxic colleague might not even realize the effect he or she is having and this can help sow some seeds of self-realization.

Rise Above

You might find yourself in a situation that doesn’t allow you to gracefully remove yourself or to confront the individual. In that case, try to remind yourself that it’s that person’s reality, not yours. You don’t have to get involved in the conversation. Don’t take it personally. If someone’s being rude, mean or bullying you, they’re probably doing the same thing to others too. Keep telling yourself that you’re not alone and that it’s not you, it’s them!

You can also take it one step further and emotionally detach or disengage from the exchange. Try to look at the situation like a doctor views his or her patients or as explorers observe wild animals. Observe what's happening and tune out the noise.

Don’t Become Part of the Problem

If you find yourself working in a toxic workplace, it can be easy to slide into the same habits. But it's important to remember that the majority of the people you work with aren't your friends. Try to keep yourself from venting and complaining to your colleagues in the office or after hours. You could potentially be giving them ammunition to use against you if they see an opening to get ahead by doing so. Instead, try to keep a journal that lets you vent privately, and without any possible blowback.

Surround Yourself with Positive People

For every toxic colleague, there’s sure to be at least one coworker who has an uplifting outlook and positive attitude. Surround yourself more with those people while distancing yourself from anyone who brings your energy down. Get into a meditation and gratitude practice during your off-duty hours. Spending just a few minutes a day focusing on everything good in your life can have a tremendous, positive impact on your professional and personal life.

Escalate Strategically

You don’t want to end up being the coworker who tattles on everyone. At the same time, there may come a point when you simply need some help in dealing with the situation. If you've tried other tactics, consider starting by going to another colleague or a supervisor to get some guidance in how to best handle the situation. If you've tried every other avenue of dealing with your toxic colleague, you may need to loop your boss or HR into the situation. Especially before your own work performance suffers. Just remember to be professional and try to minimize conflict while emphasizing that it's taking away from your focus and productivity.

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