January 29, 2020

11 Tips For Working With Toxic Coworkers

Most likely, your toxic coworker isn’t going anywhere, so it’s worth finding ways to make the situation bearable.

It Happens To Everyone

In 2018, Comparably surveyed more than 20,000 people for a study on bad coworkers. Around one-third of respondents said they work with someone who makes them want to quit their job. The most common complaints from the Comparably study were negative personalities and poor work ethic. Other issues included arrogance, entitlement, and people taking credit for your work. In addition, there are other signs of a bad coworker. They might spread rumors or complain excessively. Or, they might always look for someone else to blame when something goes wrong. Perhaps they’re quick to say “that’s not my job” instead of being a team player. While common, these behaviors lead to increased stress and decreased productivity for everyone in the office. In some cases, conflicts arise because of different backgrounds or work styles. These issues can be reasonably easy to address if you’re willing to learn and keep an open mind. Whether your coworker engages in toxic behaviors or you just don’t get along, there are ways to improve the situation.

How To Work With Toxic Coworkers

It’s unfortunate that so many people deal with bad coworkers. Luckily, there are ways to make working with them a little easier. The strategies that will work for you depends on several factors, including your personality, the type of issues you're facing, and your workplace culture. If one tactic doesn’t work, don’t give up. It’s better to keep trying than to let the issue prevent you from enjoying your job.

1. Set Appropriate Boundaries

If you don’t set appropriate boundaries with coworkers, small annoyances can become overwhelming. Successful boundaries are based on clarity and communication. First, understand what boundaries you need to set for yourself and be realistic about your work environment. In some businesses, for example, long hours are the norm. Still, don’t let yourself get sucked into behaviors that don’t work for you because “everyone does it.” Be clear about your boundaries, and don’t expect your coworkers to read your mind. When you ask someone to respect a boundary you’ve set, be polite but firm.

2. Be Professional And Civil

It can be challenging to remain civil when someone pushes your buttons. However, making an effort to do so will help defuse tense situations. Examples of civility include listening to your coworker’s ideas, even if you disagree with them. Employ the Platinum Rule: treat others as you want to be treated. Keep in mind that there’s a difference between civility and letting people use you. You can stand up for yourself and maintain boundaries while still being polite.

3. Don’t Forget, We All Play A Role

Although you may just be focused on how they annoy you, your toxic coworker has their own job. See if you can focus on what they contribute to the company. Even better, try to view their contributions as a team member in a positive light. Perhaps the reason you can’t stand your coworker is that they don’t seem to contribute anything. Consider the possibility that you don’t have all the information. There’s a reason their manager keeps them around, even if that reason isn’t clear to you.

4. Focus On Shared Goals

It’s common to believe that you should be friends with your coworkers. After all, you spend many hours with them. But, while you should be professional, you don’t need to be friends with everyone. Instead, focus on the goals you share with your difficult coworker. Perhaps there’s a project or challenge you can tackle together to take some of the pressure off your interactions. A lack of transparency about a business’s goals can lead to less job satisfaction. If you need help understanding the objectives you should be working toward, ask your manager for guidance.

5. Search For Learning Opportunities

Workplace conflict can be a learning opportunity. For example, you could learn about your own strengths and weaknesses. We all have them, and exploring them can help you become a better colleague and person. Similarly, learning to set boundaries will serve you throughout your career. You could learn how to better handle change, express empathy, or avoid overreacting. Some conflicts arise because people come from different backgrounds. If that’s the case, you have an opportunity to think about how previous experiences have shaped you. You can gain new insights and expand your worldview by learning to work with someone different from yourself.

6. Practice Positive De-Escalation

Disagreements in the workplace can lead to emotional situations, making it hard to stay professional. Positive de-escalation strategies can help. One way to de-escalate a conflict is with active listening. Some disputes arise due to misunderstandings or missing information. Discuss the issue with your coworker and truly listen to what they have to say. Next, practice empathy. It won’t be easy, but try to see things from your coworker’s point of view. Although it might not feel like it, most people have good intentions and want to resolve issues.

7. Take Ownership Of The Situation

Consider the reasons why your coworker acts the way they do. For example, if they’re shirking their work duties, it's possible that they're confused. Perhaps there’s a training resource, such as an instruction manual, that you could send them. Before sending over a training resource, be sure to ask if the person needs help. Otherwise, you risk coming across as patronizing, which could worsen the situation. In addition, try to remember that you can only control your behavior, not someone else’s. Focusing on doing your best work, rather than trying to change your coworker, might make you feel better.

8. Find Common Ground

Having something in common with your coworker will help you remember that they’re human. They have strengths and weaknesses, just like you. It can also help you to focus on something else when tension arises. Common ground can be as simple as being fans of the same sports team or band. To find out what you have in common, you may need to get to know your coworker a little better. You don’t need to try to be their best friend. Simply starting a conversation and asking basic questions goes a long way.

9. Remember, Everyone Has Their Own Story

Think about the different life experiences you’ve had that shaped you into who you are today. Unique experiences lead to differences in personality, work ethic, and communication style. Considering how your coworker’s story differs from your own can help you be more empathetic.

10. Keep an Open Mind

There are certain psychological traits all humans share that make it hard to be open-minded. Being aware of these tendencies can help you overcome them. Attribution error is a tendency to overestimate how someone’s personality affects their behavior. We make a judgment about the kind of person they are, rather than considering the circumstances. To address this error, consider whether your coworker’s annoying habits could be due to stress or other factors. Confirmation bias leads us to emphasize information that confirms our existing beliefs. To overcome this bias, try to notice if your coworker does anything that challenges your ideas about them.

11. Control Your Anger And Annoyance

Letting your anger or annoyance at your toxic coworker show will likely escalate the situation. Don’t ignore your feelings, as this can cause them to erupt later. Instead, focus on healthy outlets. Try venting your frustration to a friend who doesn’t work with you. When you’re angry, try to remove yourself from the situation. If possible, go for a brisk walk, even if it’s just around the building. Studies show that exercise can reduce feelings of anger. Once you feel falm, consider talking to your coworker about the problem. Use a neutral tone, active listening, and empathy. Also, avoid placing blame.

Our Final Recommendations

Making an effort to improve your working relationship with a difficult coworker is often worthwhile. If you’re a member of management and your company has the resources, consider training for your team. Training on soft skills, like conflict resolution, often results in a more pleasant workplace for everyone. Remember that there’s a difference between disliking someone and feeling unsafe or unable to work because of them. If the latter is the case, talk to your manager or human resources representative about how to address the situation. Sign up for Fora Financial’s newsletter for more tips on succeeding in the workplace. [cta-newsletter]