Eight Tips for Handling a Toxic Coworker
By Caroline M.L. Potter
Times are tough enough without having to deal with a toxic coworker; but if you do, you may be stuck with him longer than usual, thanks to a weakened economy. Consider these eight tips to ease the tension:
1. It's Business, Not Personal
"It's way too easy to take something personally and think behavior is about us, when it is really about the other person," says Elayne Savage, author of Don't Take It Personally! The Art of Dealing with Rejection.
2. Avoid Negative Bonding
"At some point, the negative person will complain about something that resonates with you and your circumstance," says corporate relationship expert Tony Chatman. "Do not join in. Don't even empathize. If you 'bond' with someone on a negative issue, they will feel that they have found a partner in their distress, and they will look for you every time they feel something negative."
3. Find Out What's Really Eating You
Darcy Eikenberg, a professional coach and HR expert, urges professionals to find out why this person is bugging you. "Sometimes we're annoyed by someone who actually reminds us of the worst qualities in ourselves," she says. "For example, the workplace whiner may actually be expressing things you're thinking but don't feel safe to say. As Stephen Covey says, 'Seek first to understand' -- knowing why this person's behavior bugs you is the first step to changing your reaction to it."
4. Don't Get Too Close
Workplace expert Donna Flagg, author of Surviving Dreaded Conversations, says steering clear is a solid survival strategy. "Keep a safe distance so as to avoid getting sucked into the toxicity. It's contagious," she believes.
5. Seek a Sympathetic Shoulder
"Unfortunately annoying coworkers are a hidden reality from most job descriptions," says workplace legal expert and former prosecutor Robin Bond. "Sometimes the best remedy is trading stories with a close friend [outside of the office] and finding humor and comfort in knowing you're not alone."
6. It's All About Inclusion
"If you really want the person's behavior to shift, try to include the toxic-minded people in more and more activity," says Amy Dorn Kopelan, co-creator of The Guru Nation. "Ask for their input. Ask for ideas. Don't let them grumble their way to effective discontent with the business and with the people around the office."
7. When in Doubt, Check It Out
Is a coworker really acting in a toxic manner, or did you get their tone wrong? "Check out what you thought you saw or heard so space doesn't get filled with hurt feelings, anger and resentment," Savage says. "Something on the order of, 'This is what I heard you say. Is it what you meant?' can work wonders."
8. Exit, Stage Right
Babs Ryan, author of America's Corporate Brain Drain, says you may have just one option in the end. "Only 1 percent of bullies are fired; action is usually taken against the [bully's] target," she says. "If you work with a toxic coworker, your only choice may be to leave as quickly as possible -- especially if the company supports that bully repeatedly and has already exited several of the bully's targets."