Even if you love your job, dealing with some coworkers can ruin your day (or worse). If you have to work with bullies, gossips, or people who take credit for your work, it can make it tough to advance in your career. That said, we've come up with five tips for how to deal with a toxic coworker.
But first, let's discuss the different types of toxic coworkers you may be dealing with.
Types of toxic coworkers
No doubt the phrase “toxic coworkers” brings to mind at least one person you’ve worked with. You don’t have to be best friends with all of your coworkers, but it sure helps if they aren’t actively harming your work satisfaction or creating a toxic workplace.
Although you might also have to deal with a toxic boss sometimes, let’s focus on when the people messing up your career are colleagues. The following are some of the types of toxic coworkers you might encounter.
People who take all the credit
One of the most frustrating types of toxic coworkers you might face are people who try to take all the credit for someone else’s work. You know the type, right? After spending weeks busting your tail on a group project, the credit-taker swoops in. They take all the glory for the work other people did.
Credit stealing is so upsetting because when you’ve worked so hard, you deserve to receive credit. You want that affirmation from your boss or project supervisor.
But when you’re dealing with toxic coworkers, they may mislead the boss about your efforts. Maybe they speak louder in meetings or go behind your back to take the credit.
Not only can credit-stealers make you feel awful, but they could also actually cause you to miss out on promotions or raises you deserve.
People who blame others for their mistakes
Along the same lines as the credit-stealer is the coworker who blames someone else for their mistakes. When they screw up, they’re quick to find a scapegoat. Maybe they blame you for not sending that Slack message in time, or they claim the economy messed up their sales targets.
While it’s perfectly normal to complain and vent sometimes, at some point, negativity becomes too much. Perhaps you’re dealing with toxic people at work who are overly negative. One reason they’re so toxic is that negativity seeps into everyone around them.
It can be really difficult to stay positive in a negative work environment. That’s why learning how to deal with a toxic coworker who’s constantly complaining is important.
Another one of the types of toxic coworkers you might encounter at your job is a bully. Bullies might use intimidation to prevent you and your other colleagues from speaking up in meetings.
They may force you to do work and then take the credit. Perhaps they're watching your every move, hoping to catch you messing up to tell your boss.
Of course, sometimes seemingly harmless chatter can turn into hateful gossip. Dealing with toxic coworkers who gossip about everyone else can make it really tough to focus on your job. You can’t trust the office gossip because you never know when they might start talking about you behind your back.
Have you ever had that one coworker who is forever trying to control everyone else in the office? Even when they’re not the supervisor or manager, they think they have to be in control of your every move.
It’s useful to have a plan for how to deal with toxic coworkers who want to control you and everyone else. They might also take over every meeting so you can't get a word in edgewise.
5 Helpful tips for dealing with toxic coworkers
An unfortunate reality in the work world is that you can’t completely avoid toxic people. The best you can hope for is to develop strategies for dealing with toxic coworkers.
That will help you keep your job and advance as far as you wish. Here are five ways how to deal with a toxic coworker!
1. Communicate clearly when dealing with toxic coworkers
Communication is essential to any relationship, whether with your family, friends, or coworkers. One of the best ways to stay ahead of issues with toxic coworkers is to always communicate clearly. Here are a couple of ways to do that:
Be respectful and direct
First of all, always be respectful and communicate directly with coworkers. Just as we learn in our marriages and in relationships with our kids or friends, respectful communication is key.
When dealing with a toxic coworker, you can help ward off problems by being respectful and direct. Let them know what is expected of them, and be honest if they do something upsetting.
Avoid being confrontational
Another tip for dealing with toxic people at work is to keep things peaceful in the office and avoid being confrontational. However, this doesn’t mean you never speak up about problems or misbehaviors! Rather, it means that you shouldn’t make your coworker feel like you’re attacking her.
This can be a fine balancing act—communicating directly when people have let you down, but not taking a harsh, confrontational tone.
Approach your coworker in a way that acknowledges you might not be perfect, but that you have an issue that needs to be resolved (bullying, taking the credit, or whatever it might be).
2. Focus on what you can control
As Psychology Today notes, “When we focus our attention on the actions of others, we waste our energy.” When you’re dealing with toxic people at work, it can be tempting to blame every single problem on those people.
However, your toxic coworkers don’t have power over every aspect of your life. You still can improve your work situation by focusing on the things you can control.
Deal with a toxic coworker by doing your job well
First of all, you are in control of your job performance. Now, does that mean your gossiping, credit-stealing toxic coworkers don’t impact how you do? No. But by focusing on your primary task—doing your job—you can avoid spending unnecessary time worrying about your colleagues.
Assuming you want to stay with your current employer, you need to find a way to keep doing your job well, regardless of what the person next door does. (Of course, if you’re just surviving a job you hate, it’s still important to work hard until it’s time to leave!)
Ultimately, you want to be successful at work, increase your income, and enjoy your life. Don’t give your toxic coworkers any power over those goals—be the awesome employee or entrepreneur you know how to be!
Avoid being a toxic coworker yourself
Being positive is one of the best ways how to deal with a toxic coworker. You might be thinking, “No way! I could never be toxic to my coworkers.”
And you’re probably right—but it can’t hurt to think a little harder. As you think about the toxic behaviors that bother you most in coworkers, dig deeper and examine whether you’ve ever done those yourself.
This just goes back to the idea of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. If someone’s negativity or overly controlling attitude is driving you crazy, be careful that you’re not doing the same exact thing to someone else.
For example, if your toxic coworker is a chronic gossip, you might not stop the chatter. But you can make a point of not engaging in gossip when you hear it.
You might feel weird, but when you know your coworker is trying to get you to speak meanly about someone else, you can choose to walk away or not respond.
3. Focus on positive relationships at work
One of the most powerful strategies to combat toxic coworkers is to find the opposite. Look for the people who lift you up, who praise your accomplishments, and who make work fun.
Spend more time with work friends
A suggestion for how to deal with a toxic coworker is to spend more time with the people at work you consider friends. Rather than making yourself miserable thinking about those toxic people all the time, pour your energy into getting to know the great people at work.
Making an effort to chat with colleagues at lunchtime, or setting up an informal gathering after work on Friday night could go a long way toward building camaraderie. Find some fun free things to do with work friends.
You can also try to develop better relationships with the people who are toxic, but be careful. Give them a chance to make things right, and try to see things from their perspective.
But some of these toxic coworkers will never ask forgiveness or change their ways. Don't waste too much time on them.
4. Talk to your superiors about toxic coworkers
While no one wants to be known as the office tattletale, you might have to bring up toxic behaviors with your superiors. Whether it’s your team leader, project manager, or the CEO of the whole company, they may not realize your coworker is causing trouble.
Speaking with your superiors is how to deal with a toxic coworker professionally.
Clarify team expectations
When you’re working as part of a team, you want to make sure everyone’s duties are clear. So when you meet together, ask questions if the supervisor or team leader isn’t setting firm guidelines for everyone.
If a group of five people are just supposed to work towards a vague goal, that can be a prime opportunity for toxic coworkers to make their move. Credit-takers can let the more diligent people take on the work, knowing that they can be vocal in the presentation or act as though they did everything themselves.
When you clarify team expectations ahead of time, it makes it very simple for the boss to go to each team member and ask if she accomplished all of her tasks. This way, you can avoid the credit-taker stealing your thunder.
Plus, you can easily showcase what you’ve accomplished, and it may become clear who didn’t pull their weight.
You can also make a point of pointing out when someone else in the group has done more than their fair share. That shows maturity and leadership, and it’s awesome to support your coworkers in that way.
Communicate to superiors about toxic coworkers
Another strategy to help you deal with a toxic coworker is one that you might not like: talking to the boss. While you don’t have to involve the boss in every workplace tiff, it’s important to let your supervisor know when a toxic coworker is seriously causing problems.
Some issues may need to be brought to Human Resources. But others need to go directly to the project supervisor or boss. Perhaps you have a team member who dominates every single meeting and doesn’t let others contribute.
That’s harming the whole group! You can talk to the team leader and make sure they understand how that person’s behavior affects you. If someone is toxic in a severe way, such as with repeated bullying tactics or threats, you might record these interactions.
Save copies of emails or texts if a coworker is behaving badly, so you have a record to give to HR.
5. Practice self-care as a way to deal with a toxic coworker
This next tip is something you can do to focus on what’s within your control—your responses to toxic coworkers. While this might not directly stop someone's rude behavior, it could help give you the energy to deal with it and continue doing your job.
Try adding healthier habits or new self-nurturing activities to help you manage stress at work. Healthy habits can help you cope with toxic behaviors.
In general, the healthier you are, the better equipped you’ll be to manage negative interactions at work. It won’t fix your gossiping office mate, but it might help you be more peaceful.
Try to eat a healthy, balanced diet both at work and outside of work. What you eat has a direct correlation with how you feel and how you act—especially around toxic coworkers.
Be sure to eat when you need to, stash healthy snacks at the office if possible, and avoid foods and drinks that sap your energy. What foods work best for you may vary, but most of us don’t perform well after eating excessive sugar or drinking twelve cups of coffee.
Although exercising regularly won’t stop Susie down the hall from gossiping about everyone in the office, it will help you feel your best. If you find that you can’t carve out twenty minutes a day for some form of exercise, your work and personal life are likely to suffer.
Meditation or positive thoughts about the person
Meditation can be an excellent habit for improving your mental health. If you try this, remember it can take many different forms. You might try guided meditations, deep breathing, progressive relaxation, or other types of meditation. (Check out these meditation strategies if you need ideas!)
Positive affirmations are another way to boost your mood and help you to deal with toxic coworkers. These might be positive thoughts in general, or you could try focusing on positive thoughts about that specific toxic coworker. Reframe your negative thoughts in a positive way.
Meditation and affirmations can help you to focus on the positive, calm your breathing, and stay present. Some problems with toxic coworkers may even seem less dramatic with regular practice of positive affirmations.
Leverage these tips for how to deal with a toxic coworker!
Dealing with toxic people at work can be a real challenge. While you might face a number of different toxic coworkers every day in your job, it's not the end of the world. Don't let them have too much power over your day—or your career.
Focus on the things you can control, like how hard you work and how well you communicate. That can make toxic coworkers impact your life much less dramatically.
Using these tips for managing toxic coworkers could help improve your everyday experience at work. Don’t give up or believe you have to quit your job in order to avoid toxic people—there are ways to handle those situations.