April 26, 2023

How to Handle Toxic Co-workers

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Toxic co-workers can be a pain. But an understanding of behavioural types may help deal with them, and build a more cooperative workplace.

If you were to look at the factors that influence job satisfaction, relationship with co-workers is one that is commonly mentioned. Amiable and approachable team members can foster an environment of cooperation and creativity. On the flip side, unfortunately, all it takes is one toxic team member to ruin a high-performing team.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that toxic colleagues can turn an otherwise happy workplace into a nightmare. These individuals can bring morale down, affect productivity and make others miserable to the point of affecting their mental health. Employees have been known to quit their jobs to escape such unbearable work environments. In fact, some surveys have found that the number one reason people leave their jobs is because of difficult co-workers or bosses.

Toxic co-workers are not uncommon and come in many shapes and sizes. If you’re feeling growing discontentment with some of your colleagues, it may help to identify the toxic behaviours that are being displayed.

Types of Toxic Co-workers

The Bully

Toxic co-worker can be a bully. They scorn insults and snide remarks.
Office bullies scorn insults and snide remarks

Just like the bullies we encountered at school, the office bully thrives on using threats, spreading rumours and giving unwarranted criticism. From snide remarks to scornful insults, the terrorising behaviours of the bully fuel an atmosphere of dread. However, some bullies are cunning and only pick on peers or subordinates while being obsequious to anyone higher up the ladder. This brings us to…

The Manipulator

Manipulators will lie, step on you and sabotage you to get ahead while turning on the charm toward supervisors.
Toxic manipulators will lie, spread rumours, and even steal your work

These types are champions at flattery when it suits their purposes. They will lie, step on you and sabotage you to get ahead while turning on the charm toward supervisors. Also, They have no qualms about making things up as they go along to get themselves out of trouble. They may even steal your work or ideas, but throw you under the bus if anything goes wrong.

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The Freeloader Co-worker

The freeloader is a sneaky type of toxic co-worker. This is because they are usually friendly or likeable at first glance. But their aim is basically to get rewarded for doing as little as possible. They are adept at insinuating themselves into high-performing teams and then getting team members to take on small portions of their tasks. In meetings, they may say yes but fail to follow through later.

The Manager Wannabe

Wannabe managers are toxic co-workers that likes to sling orders around and act like he knows everything.
The wannabe manager likes to look superior

This toxic co-worker loves feeling like a boss when he’s not. He likes to sling orders around and act like he knows everything. In addition, He has an air of superiority and thinks he’s always right. He likes to tell people how to do their jobs and may even be a micromanager. Besides being nosy about teammates’ work, he may show controlling behaviour and not respect boundaries. 

The Talker Co-worker

A cousin of the Gossipmonger or Overtalker, these toxic co-workers just don’t know when to stop talking. Gossip can wreck reputations, breed discontent and drain the energy of a listener. Verbal bulldozing during discussions is rude and prevents anyone else from getting a word in. In its mildest form, a talker who loves unburdening about his life story or personal problems simply takes up too much time. The time that you could have spent on work.

The Complainer+Super Negative

These toxic people feed off negative energy. In fact, they take complaining to a new level because they want others to wallow in misery with them. They whine and gripe about matters large and small but never offer any solutions or seek to improve the situation. Just one such person can infect a team with unhappiness.

The Drama King (or Queen) Co-worker

Drama kings or queens run high on emotions. They thrive on having everyone's attention and are prone to exaggerating details of their stories.
Drama queens have emotions running high

This group of people run high on emotions. They thrive on having everyone’s attention and are prone to exaggerating the details of their stories. They’re not shy about sharing their highly opinionated views. They can be entertaining in small doses but soon become tiresome when you have to put up with their antics and volatile moods day after day.   

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Understanding behaviour types to deal with toxic co-workers

Dealing with difficult or toxic people is no walk in the park. We suggest taking a step back and trying to understand why they behave the way they do. Try to dig a little deeper into their behaviour and thought patterns. The DiSC model of personalities may offer some clues.

The Manipulator may be a D (Dominance). They need to win or achieve their goal at any cost. Direct, forceful and demanding, they cannot abide failure or inefficiency. They thrive on competition and may even stir up trouble to get things going. As difficult as it will be, a firm, direct discussion with this person is probably the first step to take. Sometimes, toxic co-workers may not be aware that their behaviour is offensive. So make it known to them that they are behaving badly and it’s affecting the performance of the team. And that, in turn, will prevent the entire department from achieving the targets which the D type greatly values.  

For example, the Talker and Drama King or Queen are probably an I (Influencer) type. Very much a people person, this type loves to be in the spotlight. He or she is outgoing, spontaneous and fears rejection. Since such an individual needs stimulation and gets bored easily, a simple solution is to stop being a participating listener. Keep your eyes on your work and do not react to the drama. Put your headphones on. Hopefully, they’ll take the hint and take their drama elsewhere. 

The Complainer+Super Negative could be an S (Steadiness). They want things done properly, according to the pre-specified processes. Try to understand. They complain because they are cautious of instability. Deviations from the norm are a struggle for them. These are also people that are resistant to change, sometimes even for the better. Perhaps they need time to understand a better approach to things. Spend time helping them accept the change. Often, these people are also very loyal and supportive.

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The Manager Wannabe or Micromanager could be a C (Compliance) type. Analytical with high attention to detail, this person values knowledge, accuracy and quality. He or she has exacting standards and may even be a perfectionist. In their quest to get the job done, they may overlook the feelings of others. One way to tackle this is by rationalising with them. Using data and logic, show the Manager Wannabe that you are capable of performing your job without interference. The C type would prefer your feedback in a written, numbered list too.

When to look for help with a toxic co-worker

A win-win situation is to reach an understanding with a toxic coworker and turn things around.
Seek a win-win situation with everyone.

A win-win situation is to reach an understanding with a toxic co-worker and turn things around. This will benefit not just you but the entire team, as it’s likely that others are being affected too. However, a happy ending is not always possible. If you have tried numerous methods and the toxic behaviour persists, removing yourself from the situation may be your best re-course. 

Dealing with toxic colleagues can be very stressful and draining, and it’s important to preserve your mental health and well-being. Consider talking to your supervisor or someone from HR. You may also want to think about talking to a mentor or receiving some executive coaching. 

What’s Next

In such sticky situations, it helps to have trained professionals to provide advice and an objective viewpoint. At Lifeology Recruitment, we are psychologists who deeply understand human behaviour and motivations. Fix an appointment with us to see how we can help you develop a harmonious, high-performing team.