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Image / Editorial

Part Two: How to Deal With Toxic Colleagues


By Sinead Brady
12th Nov 2017
Part Two: How to Deal With Toxic Colleagues

It’s not always easy to deal (and work) with difficult colleagues but practice does make perfect and over time communication strategies become easier to use effectively. However they vex and annoy you, you can master tricky work situations if you know what types of personalities you’re dealing with says Sinead Brady of A Career To Love.

The Non-Responder

You know the type, you send an email – no response. You make a call and leave a voicemail – no response. You send a text – still no response. Last attempt, an instant message. Nothing. The workplace non-responder is frustrating to deal with despite the fact she typically gets the job done.

Have a quick chat with her. Be clear, but informal initially. Identify if text, email, DM, phone or a quick desk chat works best for her. Finding out and using her preferred communication channel usually works wonders.

  • Have a quick chat with her. Be clear, but informal initially. Identify if text, email, DM, phone or a quick desk chat works best for her. Finding out and using her preferred communication channel usually works wonders.
  • If this doesn’t work, ask the non-responder for coffee. Face-to-face takes your chat to the next level. Be gentle, but clear, saying it really helps you focus on your work when your communication is acknowledged within that working day.

The Quicksander

The quicksander is great company, fun to be around and very charming – just not very productive. Captivating allure gets others (usually you) tangled up in her unfinished business which causes you stress and upset around projects and deadlines. At first you didn’t mind but now you are fed up doing her work.

  • Leave your ‘to-do-list’ strategically on your desk. When inevitably asked for your help, draw their attention to it and say ‘Today I have ‘X’ to get through. If I get to the bottom of them, and I have time, I’ll get back to you.’
  • Say, ‘Sure I will help but please break the task down and let me see if there is a specific piece that I can help you with’.
  • Or be direct and say- ‘I would love to help but I have my own deadlines this week and I can’t help this time.’ Remember, helping out is very different than doing somebody else’s work so be clear.  

The Insulter

Handing out rude comments, of varying degrees, the insulter makes you (and others) feel uncomfortable and sometimes upset. This person is not a bully, yet over time the mental and emotional impact drains you. So, how do you deal with hostile co-workers?

  • Stay calm and remember the problem is not you. Start off your response by using their first name. Hearing our own name causes us to stop and pay attention while adding a personal dimension. This simple technique typically diffuses the situation.
  • If you notice raised voices, hands hitting desks or cursing, hold your hand up, stop the conversation and say ‘This conversation needs to be both professional and productive. Let’s stop now and come back to it later.’ Then leave. Taking a walk to cool off allows you both to reevaluate and preserve professional relationships.

The Workplace Jekyll & Hyde

Self-focused and with little care for anyone else’s needs, unless it is for their benefit, the workplace Jekyll and Hyde is one minute nice, the next nasty. Often a frenemy, privately full of praise, they often rip you apart publically and their negative impact hits you hard.

  • When they are cruel or unkind, call it out by saying ‘What did you say, can you repeat it please?’ As hard as this might be, challenging this way a few times should see the nastiness disappear.
  • If you feel a situation is getting out of control and becoming more serious record the details of what was said and how it made you feel. If you need to speak to your boss, your union or HR do so.

If your wellbeing is affected by dealing with any of these types,  please take stock. If you have tried to deal with these difficult workplace personalities through effective communication strategies, and nothing is changing, self-preservation is paramount. Consider moving department, role or job. This is not giving in, or a defeat, it is called minding yourself.

Dealing with a range of personalities is part and parcel of our work lives and an important skill for career progression. Avoid knee jerk reactions, and take a deep breath before reacting. The better you can deal with ‘difficult’ colleagues the more likely you to be considered for more senior roles.

And lastly, remember, if you don’t design your own version of success, someone else will do it for you and you may not like their version.