How to Deal With Dysfunctional People & Toxic Coworkers on the Job

It may be tough to remain calm around difficult co-workers.

It may be tough to remain calm around difficult co-workers.

In an ideal world, you would always get along swimmingly with your co-workers. Unfortunately, in the real world, that's seldom the case. At some point in your career, you're going to come across a truly dysfunctional or toxic individual who seems intent on making the lives of you and your colleagues miserable. While you may entertain less-than-savory thoughts about what you'd like to do to him, try instead to keep a cool head and stay professional in your dealings with him, even if you have to grit your teeth while doing it.

Avoid difficult co-workers when you can and limit your engagement with them to only what is absolutely required to get your job done. The exception? You may need to confront a passive-aggressive or back-stabbing co-worker directly and calmly, to tell them to knock it off. You may get a blank stare or a protestation of innocence, but you've at least put them on notice that you know what's going on.

Remain civil, professional and respectful, even with co-workers who aren't responding in kind. If you can defuse tension by using humor or chatting about shared interests, that might help reduce the chances of an interaction going south. Even if it's a challenge, try to not to rise to the bait if he's irritating you. Just keep your cool and remember that old saying from Mom: If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.

Cover your back: Try to ensure other people are around when you have to interact with a dysfunctional co-worker. That way, if a problem does arise, it is less likely to become a case of "he said, she said" than if you were alone with the co-worker. In addition, document your interactions with a toxic co-worker if he is affecting your ability to do your job. Keep your notes straight-forward and unemotional, focusing on exactly what happened.

Touch base with your other co-workers occasionally to see if they're having problems with the same individual. Chances are, if she's truly a toxic influence, others have experienced negative interactions with her, too. If the situation gets truly untenable, you can present a united front to the boss. Express your concerns as a group, so your boss understands this isn't just a case of personal dislike or a petty disagreement. Be prepared to spell out exactly how the problem co-worker is making it difficult for the rest of you to do your jobs.

 

About the Author

As a national security analyst for the U.S. government, Molly Thompson wrote extensively for classified USG publications. Thompson established and runs a strategic analysis company, is a professional genealogist and participates in numerous community organizations.Thompson holds degrees from Wellesley and Georgetown in psychology, political science and international relations.

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