Toxicity in the workplace is a very real thing. It can come from coworkers, supervisors, or even clients. Toxicity can be defined as harmful to health or well-being and can be caused by a toxic coworker. Toxic people have been found to have higher degrees of anxiety and depression than non-toxic people because they tend to focus on other people’s flaws rather than their own strengths. If you find yourself dealing with a toxic coworker at work, here are some tips for dealing with them:
The first thing you should do is stay calm and don’t get emotional.
- The first thing you should do is stay calm and don’t get emotional. It’s not easy, but try to detach yourself from the situation.
- Use humor to defuse the situation, if possible. If they make a joke at your expense, don’t sink to their level by getting angry or upset with them—instead, laugh along with them (and then make fun of them behind their back).
- Don’t take it personally! This is an important one because toxic people thrive on making other people feel bad about themselves. Try not to let what they say affect how you see yourself or who you think of as a person; remember that being nice means saying something good about someone else even when they’re not around (or at least quietly complaining about them when they’re not listening).
- Don’t engage in gossip about them—they’ll only use it against you later on! Just like most relationships, gossip doesn’t help anyone except the one spreading rumors; plus there’s no way for anyone else to verify what has been said anyway because there were no witnesses present during any supposed altercation between coworkers (which means there probably wasn’t actually anything worth talking about).
Evaluate the toxic behaviors and create a plan of action.
- Evaluate the toxic behaviors and create a plan of action.
- Don’t engage with them. This may be a hard one for you if you’re a people pleaser, but it’s important to remember that this person does not deserve your energy or attention.
- Don’t retaliate. They may try to provoke you by spreading rumors about you or doing other things designed to get under your skin and make you feel powerless in the situation. Your best bet is just not to let them get under your skin at all—the less they know about how they are affecting you, the better off everyone will be!
- Set boundaries around how much interaction with this person is needed and enforce those boundaries as necessary (without being too aggressive). If possible, set up rules with others so that no one has to interact directly with this individual unless absolutely necessary; if there aren’t any other options available and/or everyone is required by their manager/employer/bosses etc., then establish clear ground rules such as “no personal calls during work hours” or “you must check-in before leaving for lunch.”
If you have a toxic coworker, the best thing you can do is avoid retaliation. It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting revenge for their mistreatment. However, reacting with compassion and empathy is likely to earn you respect from others.
Here are some things not to do in response to your toxic coworker:
- Get angry or emotional. This will only make it worse; other people won’t be able to see past your anger, so don’t give them an excuse to dismiss what needs saying.
- Defend yourself or make excuses for yourself—this won’t help anyone, including yourself! And if someone else defends you…well, then they’re just as bad as this person who’s been attacking both of you all along!
- Gossip about this person behind their back—you might feel better temporarily (and even get some laughs), but consider how much worse it would be if everyone in the office knew exactly what was going on between these two coworkers who don’t seem like they could possibly be friends at all.
Get to know the company’s HR policy.
If you’re unsure of what your company’s HR policy is, it’s best to ask someone who does know. This could include a manager or the human resource department. If you’re uncomfortable talking about this with someone in your office, don’t be afraid to reach out to another employee who might have some inside knowledge.
There are also many resources available online that can help you learn more about your company’s policies for reporting toxic behavior and harassment at work. Just do a simple search for “company name” + “HR policy” and you should find something useful right away!
Follow the company’s HR policies for reporting toxic behavior.
If you have a toxic coworker, follow company policies for reporting the behavior. Be specific and use the right words. For example, don’t say something like “he’s mean” or “she’s a jerk.” Instead, use phrases like “he uses profanity,” or “she makes racist comments.” Tell HR (or whoever is in charge of dealing with this type of thing) exactly what happened and when it happened.
If you don’t know who to report your toxic coworker to, ask a manager in your department who they would recommend talking to at HR—or just go straight to HR yourself!
Avoid engaging with them.
- Avoid engaging with them.
- Don’t engage in gossip or arguments.
- Don’t engage in any behavior that will make you feel bad about yourself, or like you’re being manipulated.
Make it clear you’re not going to engage with them.
If you find yourself struggling to maintain a position of strength, it’s important to hold fast and not engage. Don’t respond to their messages; don’t try to understand them or be their friend; don’t get drawn into conversations with them about why they’re behaving the way they are (this will just make you feel bad). Instead, focus on your own responsibilities and boundaries at work.
- Be clear that you won’t tolerate any harassment from this person.* If someone is harassing you and refuses to stop, it’s time for HR intervention. You can also file a complaint with your company’s diversity officer (if there is one), if applicable.
Report their behavior to a manager.
- Report their behavior to a manager.
- Be specific in your report. That means you need to give examples of how the coworker is behaving, and also include any actions that you have taken to try and resolve the problem on your own. If there are witnesses who have seen or experienced the toxic behavior, ask them if they would be willing to participate in an investigation as well.
- Be prepared to provide evidence of their behavior (i.e., emails).
- Be prepared for the manager to take action—and prepare yourself for whatever consequences may come from reporting them!
Make boundaries clear in conversations.
You can protect yourself from a toxic coworker by setting boundaries. Make it clear that you won’t tolerate certain behavior and don’t be afraid to speak up if the person crosses these lines. If you’re concerned about how your plans to set boundaries will be received, prepare yourself in advance so that you’re ready when they try to provoke you.
Another way to protect yourself is by asking for help. If someone at work has been making your life miserable by spreading rumors, or trying to sabotage your career, it’s important that they know this behavior won’t be tolerated—and that they know who else knows about their actions. You may also want an impartial party involved just in case things escalate further than expected (if so much damage has been done already). This could mean talking with HR or getting advice from trusted coworkers before deciding whether or not it seems appropriate for them too intervene on behalf of themselves individually as well as everyone else affected negatively by this person’s behavior.”
Don’t engage in gossip, even if it’s about the toxic coworker.
Don’t engage in gossip, even if it’s about the toxic coworker.
- This applies to all gossip, not just the negative kind. Don’t spread rumors about anyone at work or outside of work, and don’t repeat anything that you’ve heard from other people that isn’t true. It puts your reputation on the line as well!
- If you feel like something needs to be said about someone, don’t do it in front of them or out loud (unless they ask). Send an email or make a phone call with another person involved so that there aren’t misunderstandings later on down the road.
- Don’t gossip with others about the toxic coworker behind their back either—it could end up getting back around to them anyways! And if they find out what was said behind their back…well then they know exactly who was talking bad things about them—and now everyone else knows too!
Tell the toxic coworker what is and isn’t okay for you.
Whether you’re dealing with a toxic coworker or your boss, giving them feedback isn’t always easy. Many people have a hard time being direct and honest about what they need and want in the workplace because they don’t want to rock the boat. They might even feel afraid that speaking up could backfire on them somehow — like it will make them look bad, or lead their toxic coworker or boss to try harder to undermine them in future interactions.
But there’s no reason to fear these things if you’re straightforward in how you communicate with this person. If your goal is just for everyone involved—you included—to get along better at work, then telling someone how their behavior affects you is an important first step toward making that happen:
If necessary, seek help from management or HR about setting clear boundaries and rules of expected behavior in the office environment.
If the toxic coworker has a case against you, you may need to go through a formal grievance process. Your manager and HR can help you set up this process.
You should also consider what type of workplace behavior you find acceptable, and where the line is drawn between your own personal values and professional responsibilities. It’s important that everyone be treated with respect at work, but if someone is repeatedly acting inappropriately or harassing others in the office, it might be necessary to take action on behalf of other employees who feel uncomfortable in the situation.
Helpful tips for dealing with a toxic coworker.
While it’s important to know how to deal with a toxic coworker, it’s equally important to recognize that you are not the problem.
- Don’t engage in gossip or negative conversations. If your coworker brings up a topic that upsets you or makes you uncomfortable, don’t engage with them on it. It’s okay to tell them that something is making you uncomfortable and ask them to stop talking about it.
- Don’t engage in negative behaviors. If your coworker is being rude or mean, don’t respond by being rude or mean back because then both of you will be playing into the cycle of negativity that your coworker has spawned! Instead, walk away from the situation as gracefully as possible so they don’t take any pleasure from seeing their behavior reflected back at them in another person’s eyes (which just reinforces their own bad behavior).
- Don’t engage in negative thoughts about yourself or others around work because this only contributes further negativity into an already toxic environment – which only serves as fuel for more problems down the line! You may have been thinking these things before; but now they’re even more prevalent because they’re coming out loud and clear thanks to this one person who keeps bringing up every terrible thing under sun every single day...
Toxic people are everywhere in the workplace.
Toxic people are everywhere, and they’re not always easy to spot. They can be manipulative, passive-aggressive, narcissistic and even abusive. If you have a toxic coworker that is affecting your mental health and well-being at work then take these steps to help protect yourself from them:
- Ask yourself if this person has any redeeming qualities? If they do, how can you use those positive qualities to encourage a different behavior in them? For example, if they’re funny or helpful consider what makes them those things and see if there is a way that you can use it as leverage to encourage positive changes in them.
- Don’t let someone else’s problems become yours! Be mindful of who is trying to involve themselves in your life so much that their issues become yours as well by talking behind their back or lying about who said what when etc… We all have enough problems as it is without having someone else’s thrown on top of our own pile!
They can be manipulative.
Manipulative people are skilled at making you feel guilty or sorry for them. They may also make you feel like you’re the only one who understands them, or that they need your help because no one else will support them.
The best way to protect yourself is to remember that no matter how much a manipulative coworker may seem like they need your support, it’s always better to say “no” and walk away from the situation than it is to say “yes” and get sucked in by their emotional blackmail.
They can be passive-aggressive.
The toxic coworker is not going to be a straight shooter with you. They will lie, manipulate, and deceive you in order to get what they want. For example, if you’re working on a project together and they are supposed to do the presentation but don’t have time because of their other responsibilities and then find out from someone else that the presentation is due tomorrow and that it’s already been done by someone else who was supposed to collaborate with them (but didn’t), the toxic person may try to blame you for the fact that they didn’t have time or even try to convince others that YOU did all of this work yourself without their knowledge.
The toxic coworker may also use passive-aggressive tactics like leaving sarcastic notes on your desk when they don’t agree with something you said or did; giving vague negative feedback during performance reviews; purposefully sabotaging tasks they know another coworker has been assigned—even if it means taking over their job completely (and denying them credit), acting friendly while secretly plotting ways to get even…
They can be narcissistic.
Toxic coworkers can be narcissistic. They may believe they are the best at everything, and they don’t listen to advice from others because they think they know it all. They also tend to be self-centered, believing that their needs should come before those of anyone else’s. Toxic workers often don’t work as part of a team; instead, they will try to get things done on their own so that only THEY get credit for success.
If you have one of these types of toxic workers in your office environment, you’ll want to avoid them at all costs!
They can be abusive.
Toxic people can be manipulative, passive-aggressive, narcissistic and even abusive. They may try to bully you into doing the work that they are supposed to be doing themselves or make your life so miserable that you leave on your own accord for fear of losing more than just a job.
These types of toxic people won’t hesitate to use their position in the company (or even their connections outside of work) against you if it means getting ahead or making your life harder.
Create boundaries and keep them away.
- You must create boundaries and keep them away.
- You must not engage in gossip
- You must not engage in retaliation
- You must not engage in emotional responses (i.e., getting angry or upset)
- You must not engage in arguments or any form of communication with the toxic coworker (no matter how tempting it is to defend yourself when they’re spreading lies about you)
Frequently Asked Questions
What to do when your coworkers are plotting against you?
- Talk to your manager
- Report the incident to HR
- Talk to the person who’s plotting against you and try to find a solution
- Document all your conversations with the people involved
- Create an exit plan
- Don’t confront your coworkers directly—it will only make things worse! Instead, go to a manager or HR representative and let them handle it from there.
How do you know if a coworker doesn’t like you?
There are a few tell-tale signs that you’re being disliked by your coworkers:
- They avoid you at work
- They don’t want to talk to you after work
- They never invite you to lunch or coffee
- They give you dirty looks and make snarky comments about you when you walk by
- They talk behind your back (and probably about what a terrible person they think you are)
How do you know if a coworker disrespects you?
- They don’t listen to you.
- They talk over you and interrupt you.
- They ignore your ideas and contributions, even though they’re valuable to the team’s success.
- They don’t treat you with respect in general—they’re rude, mean, or condescending in other ways too!
If you find yourself in a situation where you know you’re being targeted by a toxic coworker, it’s important to first take a step back and try to understand what’s going on. You should never engage or retaliate against them. Instead, seek out support from your manager or HR department if necessary. It’s also important to remember that toxic people are everywhere in the workplace; so don’t feel alone!