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How to deal with a toxic co-worker

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Toxic employees are everyday threats that can negatively impact your workplace if left undealt with. Although it can sometimes be uncomfortable and confrontational, its critical to address issues right away as “Toxic employees create discord, crush morale and reduce co-workers’ productivity” . Through this article I’ll explore how to deal with toxic co-worker.

A Harvard study shows that “ toxic employees alienate their co-workers and team members, which also directly impacts the bottom line”, meaning its bad for business. These statistics from this study make the argument that you might be better with off with an empty chair than a toxic co-worker.

  • 80 percent of employees lost work time worrying about the offending employees’ rudeness
  • 78 percent said their commitment to the organization declined in the face of toxic behaviour
  • 66 percent said their performance declined
  • 63 percent lost work time in avoiding the offender
  • 48 percent decreased their work effort

Below you can find a breakdown of some of the steps to take if you find yourself working with a toxic peer, and how to resolve the issues at hand with minimal impact to yourself and team.

Seek to understand: Ask why?

The first step is to seek to understand your colleague’s behaviour before reacting. Before writing this person off, give some credit to your leadership and company. Your teammate would have gone through the same interview process you did, and although maybe they have been derailed and are off track at the moment, there might be a reason why. There is a fine line between your personal life and your professional life and often no matter how bad we want to say we’re in complete control, worlds often collide. There could be other factors happening outside of work that are impacting them on a day to day basis and you just happen to be the outlet and collateral damage. A simple “hey, how you feeling today? How’s everything outside of work? Can I help you with anything?” will go a long way in helping you better understand your colleague’s behaviour.

Be a leader and take control

You need to take ownership of the situation. Leaders don’t point fingers; they take control which means you might need to park your ego (easier said than done) for the greater good of the situation. If someone is making you feel uncomfortable you need to take action. Take your time, make a plan and follow these 3 steps.

 Simon Sinek captures this perfectly in this short video.

  • When you talk to them tell them exactly how you feel. Be specific
  • Talk about the specific action/behaviour they took to make you feel that way
  • Explain to them the potential impact of what happens if they make you feel this way again

Documentation is a powerful tool

You need to be aware and keep track of incidents with toxic colleagues. Keeping a log or a journal can be helpful in setting up a timeline or looking at a trend. If we’re at this stage, it’s because you have tried to make peace, move on and failed. The next step will be to involve management or HR to find a solution. However, when you get to these stages the more information you have the better. Facts are examples which will help add credibility and outline to your organization that this isn’t something small that happened at the water cooler last month. This is something that is consistent and needs to be addressed. I would recommend keeping a word document and outlining the days, times and add a quick note or memo of what happened in real time. The more details you have the better as this will be helpful in the next step.

Be Proactive.

Let your manager know what’s going on in your world. Especially if you’re work is impacted and you’re not at the level your manager is expecting form you. Ask you manager for help and their advice before you approach your office nemeses. It’s important to make them aware in case something goes wrong; they have some context as to why and can help you resolve it. Very important, always have a solution to the problem before approaching your manager instead of having your manager solve your problems. This shows your leadership team you are solution driven are not afraid to stand up for yourself and do what’s best for the company. It also shows you’re colleague that you respect them enough and give them benefit of the doubt that as adults you can sort it out. If you’re not sure on how to approach the situation, ask your manager to help you put a plan in place to deal with it. If they can’t, ask your manager for an introduction to someone who can.

Draw a line in the sand and move on.

Give yourself some credit for doing all that you can and trust in your leadership that by doing the right thing behaviours will change. You can only control what you can control so you need to make a plan on how you can continue to move forward and advance your career. Set boundaries, set clear expectations and be consistent with the follow-through when dealing with your toxic peer. I hope this article helps you understand how to deal with a toxic co-worker.

How avansai can help

If you’re searching for something new or just want to be kept updated on the market take a few minutes to fill out our Candidate Profile and one of our advisors can help. If you are someone who is being impacted by a toxic colleague feel free to reach out to me directly and I can see how I can help. Also check our website and career advice column. We offer a ton of free advice every week which the end goal of helping you advance your career!

Corey Demberg

Co-founder @avansai