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A survival guide for dealing with toxic co-workers

At a recent management event, I was pulled aside privately by a couple of participants asking for advice on dealing with a toxic co-worker. These passionate people were worried that the toxicity created by one person could kill the culture of the entire team.

When you work in a team environment, particularly smaller teams, it's essential to have respect, responsibility and trust. Toxic behavior can impact productivity, create hostility and animosity and severely damage or kill a culture, even if it's just one person.

In a recent article by the editorial team of Indeed, they identify several behaviors they label as toxic:

Rebuffing feedback – The person cannot accept any criticism.

Blaming others and never accepting responsibility for problems.

Taking credit for others' work.

Tendency to overshare about personal and professional matters.

Gossiping about others.

Micromanaging the tasks of others, not themselves.

Communicating ineffectively.

Making passive-aggressive comments.

Nick Cooke, founder of Nectar Talent Solutions, says it begins with understanding difficult people:

It's important to recognize that difficult people may lack empathy and concern for others. They can include individuals from the "dark triad" (callous, manipulative and narcissistic), bullies, gossip-mongers and passive-aggressives.

In his article, Cooke shares tips for dealing with a toxic co-worker: Examine your reaction: Take a moment to understand your own reaction to the difficult person's behavior.

Stay calm: Remaining calm can help you maintain control of the situation and garner respect from the difficult person.

Listen and practice empathy: Everyone wants to be heard and understood. Actively listen to the difficult person and try to understand their perspective. Establish boundaries: Confront the person respectfully and set clear boundaries for acceptable behavior.

Focus on what you can control: Concentrate on aspects within your control and avoid taking the difficult person's behavior personally.

It's okay to address matters publicly: When a colleague oversteps a boundary, it might be better to address the behavior immediately, even in front of other employees.

Cooke says that by implementing these strategies, individuals can effectively manage and navigate interactions with difficult people in the workplace, ultimately fostering a more positive and productive work environment.

It can also be helpful to share your feelings with a trusted friend or colleague or at a networking/learning event, as the participants of the leadership event did. When they returned, they sought guidance from their manager and HR team. As a result of their courage and professional handling of their concerns, the toxic co-worker is no longer a part of the team.

I was surprised at the amount of research I could uncover on this topic, which leads me to believe it's more prevalent than we may think. It's always important to know you're not alone.

Jeff Schmidt is the SVP of Professional Development. You can reach him at You can all so connect with him on X and LinkedIn.

Source: Jeff Schmidt, SVP of Professional Development