When it comes to toxic people in our lives, it's easy to feel like the easiest way to deal with them is to barricade them from our lives entirely. However, that might be easier said than done, particularly when these kinds of people are unavoidable — like, say, your coworkers. So: how do you deal with a toxic coworker? What are the healthy ways to respond to a negative colleague that keep you protected and don't put you in an unhealthy position?
In truth, balancing life when it comes to work is no easy feat. A lot of people struggle with balancing even just their literal work with their work environment, such as their relationship with their boss, who is the office "favorite," or who is in the lunch clique and who isn't. All of these things may feel reminiscent of high school (which, unless we're talking about '90s nostalgia, is rarely a good thing) — so when they appear in the workplace, it's important to know how to advocate for yourself and keep yourself feeling healthy and balanced in toxic environments.
If you have a toxic coworker who regularly interferes with your work or your wellbeing, you may feel helpless or powerless to do anything. But while the situation is challenging, you absolutely do have options and resources available to you! Of course, every situation is different, but it's good to know what responses you have in your arsenal if you're dealing with a toxic coworker in your workplace. Here are some starting points:
1. Literally Ignore The Negativity
Although this can sometimes be easier said than done, occasionally, simply blocking out the negativity and refusing to respond to it can do the trick. Of course, this doesn't mean that you should ignore your coworker entirely, but it's OK to answer selectively sometimes. For example, if someone slips in something overtly critical, or comments on something about you or your work that is inappropriate, but is also talking about something directly related to your work, it's OK to simply answer what is relevant. You don't need to acknowledge their negativity by justifying yourself or engaging in a conversation with them if you know they're just trying to be negative or upset you. Often, negative people lash out for attention, and giving them the silent treatment in that area can send a strong message that you simply don't have time to deal with it.
That said, though, if you're on the recieving end of inappropriate comments at work, document everything — what was said, when it was said, in what context it was said, every detail you can imagine. If you need to take it to HR or a supervisor later on, it will help immensely to have every instance documented. (See also: Point number three below.)
2. Be Kind
This one is going to feel like a huge challenge sometimes, but it's important to keep in mind: Be kind to your coworker, even if they aren't kind to you or pleasant to be around at work. This doesn't mean that you have to bend over backwards or be overly forgiving, amd having a bad day or ongoing issues is never an excuse to create a toxic environment for someone else; however, it's good to recognize that your coworker may be acting out or negative for reasons that have zero to do with you or your work space. Every person deserves kindness, and we don't always know what's happening behind closed doors.
3. Keep A Record Of What Goes On
Remember that whole thing about documenting everything I mentioned in point number one? If you feel like a toxic coworker is impacting your ability to do your job or feel safe in your workspace, it's a very good idea to keep a log of what specific interactions are happening, when they happen, etc. This is helpful if you decide to talk to a supervisor or file a report about this person's behavior, because having instances in writing with specific dates, times, circumstances, and details can help your superiors handle the situation with accuracy. Even if you don't want to file a report right now, you never know what the future holds, and it's a good move to protect yourself as much as possible in case you change your mind in the future.
4. Redirect The Conversation
If your coworker consistently brings up topics of conversation that feel toxic, such as gossiping about a coworker or bad-talking your boss, it's OK to change the subject. It can feel like the person is trapping you in this one subject (and it's possible that's their intention), but that doesn't mean you have to go along with it. Do you share a common love for a certain sports team, type of movie, or neighborhood? Focus on those and other neutral topics. Are you working on a project together and need to chat anyway? Jump to that. It can feel awkward to switch conversation topics when someone is putting the pressure on you to gossip or be negative, but doing so can help set the tone and your boundaries with your coworker.
5. Be Prepared
When it comes to dealing with a toxic person, it's important to remind yourself that you have value, regardless to how they try to make you feel. Toxic people tend to be notorious for bringing others down and hurting the team morale, but you can combat this by preparing yourself for the worst. Remind yourself of your value, focus on your own work and responsibilities, and prepare yourself to keep calm and collected if you know you'll be interacting with a toxic coworker.
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