How to Deal With Toxic People at WorkNone By Homaira Kabir
French philosopher Sartre said, “Hell is other people.” Positive psychology says relationships are an important pathway to flourishing. As the most social animal on the planet, what are we to make of this?
The answer may lie in the emotional contagion of the relationship. Positive relationships calm us, delight us, and empower us. They help families flourish and organizations succeed. They make us better versions of ourselves and bring happiness and meaning into our lives.
And then there are toxic relationships that consume us and leave us drained. The ones that cause us daily stress, where our best intentions fall by the wayside and we become embroiled in behaviors that are uncharacteristic at best. And that’s because toxic people defy all reasonable attempts at compromise and collaboration.
Surprisingly enough, these people are easier to manage as family or friends, largely because we have more tools at our disposal. We can dig deeper and help them get to the core of the misery they spread. We can hold their hand, stroke their arm, or offer a shoulder to cry on as they process their emotions and gain a better understanding of their behaviors.
Toxicity in the workplace takes the difficulty to a whole new level. Unlike family, we’re less willing to forgive because we’re not bound by blood. Unlike friends, we can’t see them go like passengers on a train because it’s not our call. But does this mean we need to tolerate their presence while our blood boils, or cringe every time we pass them in the break room?
Luckily, no! We can step away from our instinctive response and come up with a more enduring plan.
Limit Your Exposure (to the Best of Your Ability)
Do what you can to limit your exposure to your toxic colleague. Don’t feel compelled to initiate a conversation simply because they walk into the kitchen while you’re filling up your water bottle. A polite "hi" is all that’s needed. Hanging around is at your own risk. If they engage you in conversation that’s turning hostile, talk slowly and deliberately—it reassures your mind that you’re safe and keeps you from getting embroiled in needless negativity.
Don’t Suffer in Silence
This doesn’t mean actively starting a campaign against those who are toxic! It means seeking support to help you stay strong, relieve stress, and maintain a healthy perspective. However, don’t fall into the trap of burdening your healthy relationships with talk of the toxic person. An occasional laugh or sigh is fine—and often needed—but constantly having them at the top of your conscious awareness drains your emotional energy and leaves little for more positive pursuits.
Look After Yourself
Negative (and positive) emotions are contagious. To save yourself the grief of being