3 Ways To Handle “Toxic” Colleagues

In our QBQ! Group on Facebook, (feel free to join us!) we posed this question: Should people expect to not experience stress at work?

This query was prompted by a survey showing 40% of people have quit jobs due to “stress.” I was pondering whether or not people would be justified in expecting to have a job with no stress.

As our members explored the question, it became clear there are two types of stress. You may be familiar with them:

Eustress: moderate psychological stress viewed as beneficial.

Distress: extreme anxiety, sorrow, or pain viewed as harmful.

Toxicity Happens

So, we have “good stress” (eustress) and “bad stress” (distress). Good stress is generated by deadlines, goals and objectives, challenging tasks, a desire to achieve, etc. Bad stress comes from … people.

Toxic people.

In my twenties, I worked in two branch offices for a large agricultural firm where the managers allowed toxicity to reign. In Mankato, Minnesota, a woman threw tantrums and exhibited wild emotional swings that truly created fear in others. She made the days long.

When I was transferred to Great Falls, Montana, the fella sitting next to me — 20 years my senior — damaged morale every single day with his critical tongue, haughty demeanor, and it’s-all-about-me personality.

I now realize these offices were run by weak managers who allowed toxicity to happen. Of course, blaming the boss gets us nowhere. Better to ask the QBQ, “What can I do?”

What To Do With Toxicity

If you know the QBQ! book’s message of Personal Accountability, you know I can only change and control me. My reactions and responses are mine alone. I own them. Given this truth, here are 3 ways to handle toxic people at work — and yes, these ideas can work even if it’s “the boss” who’s toxic. ??

Alter My Thoughts

No matter how destructive toxic co-workers can be, one thing they can never do is control my thinking. Even if it sounds platitudinal, it’s still true — I can always choose healthy thoughts about myself, the organization I represent, the work I’m doing, and <most of> my colleagues. By engaging in positive thinking, I defeat toxic people. They just don’t know it. ?

Confront Calmly, Constructively

Confrontation is a skill mature people possess. Calmly telling toxic colleagues the specific behavior of theirs that is troublesome, how it makes me feel, and why I feel that way is good. If they cannot handle the truth, that’s their problem, not mine. Learn the skill of confronting today.

“Believe or Leave”

This principle taught in both QBQ! and Outstanding! has changed many lives for the better. If I cannot wholeheartedly believe in my employer, its products and services, and the people I work with, I should consider moving on. Life truly is too short to remain in an ulcer-causing environment with a job I gripe to my family about when I get home. If you work with toxic people and management is not dealing with them, take your amazing talents and gifts elsewhere. You’ll be glad you made the move. I am.

The Bottomline

Being immersed in toxicity at work every day does not make for happy and healthy living. Beyond the three ideas above, I’m sure there are many more productive ways to handle toxic people. Please share your recommendation as a comment. We’d love to hear from you. Jump in!


4 Responses

  1. Excellent! I just left a very toxic workplace, after only 8 weeks. It was toxic from the top and at each and every turn, with poor morale. I couldn’t see staying there. I made it clear I’d give adequate notice and not leave them short staffed. The Nurse Administrator decided to do one last retaliative act, calling my nursing agency the following morning and terminated me. She short-staffed the remaining staff with those immature actions. I’m destined for a calmer workplace.

  2. This is an awesome learning for everyone. It can help boosting more teamwork which I am a big advocate of in the workplace and at home with family. My son Todd has grown up in the same business I retired from after 33 years with GlaxoSmithkline Consumer Health Care, Inc. Todd works for a company that is big on teamwork and has a culture of no toxicity. He has been with them for about a year now and this company is very successful with very good leaders. Thanks my Cornell friend! Have 9 Grandchildren now and all based in Pittsburgh where we live! It is a blessing!

    Cliff Hendry

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