Coping with Toxic Co-Workers

One of the most challenging scenarios for a lot of people at their place of work is finding a way to ‘cope’ with a toxic co-worker, or even worse, boss.  Today, Leadership Coach, Katie Kelley, shed some light on how best to manage a toxic co-worker.

Objectively Evaluate Your Working Relationship
First, take some time to step back from the embroiled work scenarios you may have found yourself in with this toxic co-worker, and evaluate the relationship objectively. This is best done with someone you trust and who does not even know the other party or of course a trained professional.  Your goal is to reflect on the style of your co-worker, their patterns and whatever extenuating circumstances could be leading to them acting in a less than ideal manner.  A great simple tool to do this exercise is the fishbone diagram. This exercise will help you understand what part you might be able to ‘better own’ and manage for your own sanity. You also want to think about what is being triggered by this person’s style as well as what kind of expectations you have for the relationship. Consider whether they are reasonable and what you need to adjust in order to better cope with the fact that you have to work with this person on a daily basis.


Implement Feedback & Disclosure
In an ideal world, you will flesh out the fishbone diagram with your co-worker as a means of opening up the conversation with them about your ‘dissatisfaction’ with the state of your working relationship.  I realize that this is not something that most people feel comfortable doing.  So, a more incremental way to do this is to begin to find opportunities to share with your co-worker your reaction or the ‘effect’ of their particular working style with your own.  The key is to take the emotion out of the situation and work towards objectively talking about improving your working relationship in a very constructive and forward focused framework.  This helps to cut down on their defenses or an over personalization of the matter at hand. No one likes to feel attacked, especially those who might know they are not treating people in a respectful and fair manner. I can provide an example of how viewers could set up a dialogue like this.

Clarify Rules of Engagement
The next step is to enforce the general criteria by which you and they have been set up to work together. You can try to do this one of two ways. The first route, is a private conversation just with your co-worker, about taking into consideration all of the discussions you have had thus far in the first two steps and saying, “Can we agree that we need to work on a new rules of engagement together?” If they agree to do this, great. If not, you move on to the second route of uncovering either your original job description or seeking counsel from your co-workers or other senior members of your office about the protocol of the working relationship.  If no one has these answers, then it could be time to involve HR in drawing up those boundaries, so that everyone is clear about the expectations and responsibilities that each team member should be upholding to one another. I realize this can be a very uncomfortable step to take for many, and you are right—this is not easy. But it is the right thing to do, the courageous thing to do and eventually will most often times lead you to a resolved and much easier working relationship.


Experiment with Different Leadership Styles
My Leadership Styles Model offers folks four different means of leading others: Collaborating, Guiding, Directing and Disengaging.  Ideally, we always start off conversations in a collaborative style, but it is predicated on the fact that you wholeheartedly have an open mind and belief about the situation at hand and that you are open to learning new ideas.  If you can genuinely admit to yourself, that there may be factors or information that your co-worker might share with you that could help you better cope with them, then try to begin your conversations with that collaborative approach. I will provide some opening lines for a collaborative approach.

Raise Your Boundaries in the Short Term
The bottom line is that if you are experiencing someone at your workplace as toxic, you need to better protect yourself from them.  While all of these previous tips are more of a long term approach to remedying the situation, a short term approach needs to include an evaluation of whether this is a place you want to continue to work, what your options are as far as not having to interact with them as much and adjusting the way in which you are interacting with them today.  If they are saying hurtful comments to you about your personal life, stop sharing aspects of that part of yourself with them.  If they never give you the praise that you know you deserve for your work, look elsewhere for them and come to terms with the fact that this may never change with this person.  You have got to look out for yourself and work to lower the silo that the two of you may be operating in so that you can grow your relationships elsewhere and allow their ‘bad behavior’ to be seen by your company at large.


 

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