6 Strategies To Help You Deal With A Toxic Coworker

By Laura K. Connell

January 10, 2024   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

how do you deal with a toxic coworker

If you’ve been in the workforce for any length of time, you’ve likely come into contact with difficult or even toxic coworkers. Maybe you’re dealing with one now.

Toxic coworkers come in a number of different forms. There are harassers, bullies, manipulators, gossips, and negative Nellies. You probably have additional examples among the people you’ve encountered at work.

The stress of dealing with toxic coworkers has a measurable impact on your health and productivity at work. These negative effects include:

  • lowered job satisfaction
  • sleeplessness
  • underachieving in your role
  • heightened stress
  • decreased mental health

Toxic people in the workplace can keep you from fulfilling your potential because of the way they lower your productivity and increase your levels of stress. They make work into an unsafe place which takes a toll on your mental health. So, how do you protect yourself from the very real influence of a toxic coworker?

Here are six strategies:

Enlist Supporters

how to deal with a toxic coworker

Form friendships with positive people in the office. Making alliances goes a long way toward counteracting the negative impact of a toxic coworker. It reminds you you’re not alone, there are many people on your side, and only one who’s not.

It isn’t necessary or even advisable to talk to them about the difficult person. Complaining only keeps you stuck in a pattern of letting that person take up too much space inside your head. Instead, use your time with others to forget about the bad apple and feel refreshed.

Don’t Get Hooked In

Do your best to remain neutral in your responses to your coworker. Do not take the bait when they provoke an emotional response in you. Choose instead to rise above their tactics and refuse to lower yourself to their level.

Set Boundaries

Often, confronting the office bully will backfire on you, but there are other ways to set boundaries with a difficult person at work. It can be as simple as saying you’re busy and can’t engage at the moment.

Your body language also acts as a “do not disturb” sign. You can turn away when they approach, avoid making eye contact, or wear headphones to indicate you’re not available for a conversation.

If the lunchroom is a place where people gossip or complain about work, eat your lunch outside or in another area. You can take the opportunity for exercise by going for a walk when it’s nice out or for a gym session when it’s not.

Practice Good Self Care

Although dealing with a toxic coworker can disrupt sleep, do your best to get 7-8 hours a night. You’re less prone to melt down over someone’s manipulation after a good night’s sleep. Besides, rest is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle and will keep you both physically and mentally strong.

Rather than spending the evening binge-watching Netflix, take up hobbies and personal interests to help boost your confidence and add balance to your life.

Make sure and take your vacation days rather than letting them pile up. Getting away to reset and recharge will remind you that you have a life and relationships outside of work.

Practice Mindfulness

dealing with a toxic coworker

Mindfulness keeps you focused in the present moment and helps you achieve more mental focus. It will keep your mind healthy and less stressed, which equips you to deal with the antics of a toxic coworker.

Mindfulness can take many different forms including deep breathing, body scans, or sitting alone with your thoughts for a few minutes. The key is to avoid judging those thoughts and simply observe them. There is no perfect way to meditate, so find the method that works best for you.

Focus On Solutions

Lose the looping thoughts over things you can’t control, like your coworker’s behavior, and pay attention to what you can do to improve your experience. Instead of ruminating over the actions of the toxic person, come up with solutions to deal with them and maintain your own mental health.

Stop trying to figure out why your coworker behaves the way they do. Such people lack the compassion and empathy of those of us who act in good faith. They are not interested in authentic relationships, just using people to fulfill their own objectives.

Tell yourself the true story that they are insecure and unhappy and nothing you do or say is likely to get through to them. Unlike a toxic friend or family member, you can’t detach completely from your coworker. However, you can improve your mindset to help you deal with the situation and stop it from negatively impacting your job performance and mental health.

Laura K. Connell

Laura K. Connell is author of It’s Not Your Fault: Subconscious Reasons We Self-Sabotage and How to Stop. Her work has appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Pick the Brain, The Self Improvement Blog, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and more.

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