How to Deal with Toxic People at Work

By Nan Nan Liu-Maffetone | Strong Female Leaders

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How to Deal with Toxic People at Work?
From the ferocious bully to the cunning backstabber, toxic coworkers and bosses damage relationships, hinder productivity and cripple morale. If you let them.

While you can't easily change people's behaviors, you can adjust how you respond to them. Remember this: people's actions reflect how they have been treated by others, which often leads to how they feel inside. When someone tries to make you feel inferior, their own self esteem needs help.

So what can you do about it? Strong people lift others up, even in the most toxic situations. In fact, in a toxic culture, your team is searching for that strength. So focus on building your own personal power, starting with the following ways to identify and deal with toxic people at work.

Types of toxic people at work and how to deal with them:
1. The Bully
The Bully exhibits sociopathic traits such as speaking disrespectfully, showing aggression, and refusing to feel guilt or remorse when he does wrong. He draws power from marginalizing others, pushing his own agenda relentlessly, initiating interpersonal issues and sometimes doing it for fun, and manipulating and using others for his own benefit.
However subtle his antics may be, the bully leaves people feeling abused, confused and belittled. He might even make people dread coming to work.
How to deal?
Work on your courage. Speak up for yourself, even if your voice shakes. Even if you've been cornered and don't know what to say.
Say something. Anything! And don't wait for rescue or seek sympathy. This is on you, and you only. If you don't speak up, then you consent to being the weakling.
If you couldn't quite speak up yet, practice with someone until you can. Most likely, the workplace bully picks on everyone. Yes, he is that insecure! The sooner you can stand up for yourself, the sooner you can stand up for others. You are standing up for a principal; and that is a stronger force than any bullying way.

2. The Martyr
On the surface, the Martyr looks like the perfect team member. She works hard, does everything, and makes sure that everyone knows how valuable she is. Then, she complains. Because she feels resentful, under-appreciated and burnt out. Eventually, she complains so much that she pollutes the entire atmosphere.
How to deal?
The martyr isn't hopeless, she's just lost. Guide her back to the superstar she once was by coaching her about stress management, finding work-life balance, and delegating responsibilities. Advertise to her the value of taking paid time off, and encourage her to collaborate with others. Lastly, appreciate her. Sometimes, a simple thank you card will do.

3. The Charity Case
He is disorganized, frazzled, and utterly helpless. Unfortunate events (divorce, debt, poor health...) happen to him all the time, and he has an excuse for every missed responsibility. Yet he gets away with it all, simply by instigating sympathy.
How to deal?
This person desperately needs personal empowerment. Instill it by rejecting future excuses and stopping special treatment. Demand that he does his part and do it with quality, and not because he has to, but because he can. Then, check in with him frequently with the sole intention of reminding him just how awesome and capable he is.

4. The Popular Kid
She's fun, entertaining, and knows everyone. She's like the prom queen in high school, except, her socializing occurs during work hours.
She surrounds herself with her clique, causes distractions with loud look-at-me laughters, takes lengthy coffee breaks to "discuss work issues," thrives on "listening" to others' drama, creates social segregations and hierarchies, and excludes anyone who doesn't quite fit the in-crowd. If you dissagree with her conduct, you risk isolation, exclusion and perhaps being the subject of cruel gossip.
How to deal?
Do not succumb to the pressure. In this "high school" culture, you may feel compeled to join the popular crowd. Don't do it! Focus on work, adding value to the team, and most importantly, adding intrinsic value to your own skillsets.
Popularity offers the most extrinsic power, and it is fleeting. You are stronger than that.

5. The Backstabber
He's kind, helpful and loyal to your face. Behind your back, he talks negatively, steals opportunities, and spreads rumors. While backstabbing never results in long-term success, it still hurts relationships and creates mistrust.
How to deal?
Instead of dwelling on the hurt and dissapointment you feel, focus on what's important, and that is developing yourself as a professional, leader and role model. Having been stabbed in the back feels terrible, so balance it out by doing something that feels good. What about helping a team member with too much on his plate? Or volunteering for a nonprofit? Or being there for a friend who is experiencing loss?

You can't control what backstabbers do, but you can turn the negative energy into positive outcomes.





Parting Thoughts
Toxic coworkers and bosses exist everywhere. Because they are human beings, and they make mistakes. When people are hurt and vulnerable, they lash out by hurting others. That doesn't mean you have to suffer or mirror what they do. If you know how to respond, your can improve your situation over time. In fact, you can even become the strength they need to grow their own personal power.

Need more help? The books below are good resources.
1) The Lazy Genius Way: Embrace What Matters, Ditch What Doesn't, and Get Stuff Done
2) Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life
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[ Disclaimer: this article includes affiliate links.]

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