How Can I Handle A Toxic Co-Worker?


My colleague's persistent complaining is so bad that it's sapping my energy and positive outlook, and that of everyone else in the workplace. Furthermore, my colleague seems to be able to escape censure while undermining my work and criticising me in front of our mutual supervisor. How can I stop the spread of this 'disease' in the office?


The first thing you should do (after identifying the source of the 'poison') is to keep your distance and suppress any visible reactions to your co-worker's negativity or any (unfair) criticisms that are thrown your way.

While you may be boiling with indignation on the inside, you must remain calm and professional on the outside at all costs. Reacting hastily and in anger will simply aggravate matters and give your co-worker an excuse to pin blame on you.

But if things have already progressed to the point of becoming unbearable, then you should tackle the problem head-on (more on that below). Toxic co-workers can and do exist in any workplace, and learning how to deal with them will save you plenty of headaches in the long run.

Privately Confront Your Co-Worker

It may be possible (don't snigger!) to repair relations with the toxic co-worker by privately talking to him or her in a pleasant manner which doesn't provoke a defensive attitude. Also, try to ask questions to encourage your co-worker to think of constructive solutions to the problem(s) which he or she keeps raving about.

It's conceivable that your co-worker is not being actively malicious but just being excessively pessimistic and defeatist. A change in mind-set and perspective may be what's needed to bring about positive change.

Bring It Up To Your Boss

If no signs of improvement are forthcoming, you should consider approaching your boss for help. But before you do so, ensure that you are aware of any affiliations the toxic co-worker may have in the workplace. A toxic co-worker with considerable connections (especially if it's to the supervisor you're thinking of tattling to) can cause this approach to backfire horribly and may cause you to be blacklisted instead.

And when bringing the matter up to your boss, do not rant about the toxic co-worker - you are simply begging to be lumped together with said co-worker. Present proper documentation of every negative action the toxic co-worker has exhibited and rally support from your fellow colleagues, if possible, to strengthen your stand. Your boss is more likely to follow up on this issue if he or she can be made aware of the sheer negative impact of the toxic co-worker on the entire office.

Have An Exit Strategy

If all else fails, then get out of this cancerous situation, pronto. Situations like this rarely improve without drastic intervention. Apply for a transfer to another department, if possible. If not, you may wish to find employment elsewhere, as unappealing as that prospect may be.

Although, you may feel vexed and a sense of injustice at being forced into a situation not of your making, don't be afraid to pull out if need be. This will minimise the strain on your nerves and allow you to move on to a new environment where you'll probably be happier. Trust us - you'll be glad you did so.

How else can you handle a toxic co-worker? Share with us in the comment box below!

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