We’ve all heard this heart-warming sentiment from friends lucky enough to work in great teams. Unfortunately, the same can apply if you hate your job. It doesn’t matter how much you enjoy your duties. If you know you have to deal with toxic colleagues every day, you’ll soon dread getting out of bed each morning.
Some bring negativity to everything they do. Some are too lazy to do anything in the first place. And some are just plain irritating.
But it’s not just that they’re unpleasant to deal with. Research shows that difficult workplace relationships can cause anxiety, depression, and long-term illness. So, it’s no wonder that poor employee relationships are the cause of up to 80% of organizational problems. What you need is a way to handle these individuals.
First, however, you must be able to identify who they are – so you can recognise that it’s not you, it’s them.
We’ve put together profiles of the 4 most common toxic colleague archetypes. Read on to see how many you work with… and how many you’re glad you don’t work with anymore!
We’ve also got some advice for how best to deal with the toxicity they bring to your workplace. Let’s open the barrel…
1. Mr/Ms AgreeableThe problem: It’s nice to have positive co-workers. But our first toxic type goes way beyond that, and simply agrees to everything they are presented with
Meeting with a difficult or demanding customer? Mr/Ms Agreeable will say yes to every request made – leaving everyone else to deal with resulting delivery and budget problems. Trying to make a team plan or schedule? Prepare for endless back and forth with Mr/Ms Agreeable, since they’re so desperate to accommodate everyone that they can’t make a simple decision. Mr/Ms Agreeable will also side with senior employees every time, making it hard to resolve difficult workplace issues.
The solution: When colleagues are overly compliant, it’s usually because they lack the confidence to take their own stance. Instead, they need leadership from others. You need to be that leader, by being firm, reasoned and confident in your dealings with Mr/Mrs Agreeable. Ask them specific questions about what they need from you and move on quickly once they have answered.
2. The Negative NellyThe problem: It’s not difficult to spot a Negative Nelly. They’re often very vocal about how nothing at your workplace is good enough. They will complain endlessly about:
• Having too much work
• Being asked to do work outside their job description
• Their treatment by managers
• The supposed incompetence of their colleagues
• Just about anything else they can think of!
Some Negative Nellies are more insidious. Instead of complaining loudly, they will bring a terrible “can’t to” attitude to any work you do together. They might pour scorn on the project itself, or contribute very little to the team – excusing themselves by saying “this is pointless”, “we haven’t been trained for this”, or some other drivel. All of which leaves you feeling bad about your job and having to pick up their slack.
The solution: It’s not easy to deal with these whingers. If there are a lot of them at your workplace, it might be time to consider moving on. But if there are only one or two, and most other employees have a good attitude, consider working with colleagues and manager to address the problem. Ask your Negative Nelly about what would make them happier at work, and encourage positive approaches. You might just be able to bring them round.
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3. The Time SinkThe problem: We’ve probably all met this type of person, and we might not always think of them as “toxic” – because they’re often so friendly. But the fact is they waste our time, they wreck our productivity, and they make us late. Which is why a Time Sink’s friendly face soon becomes an irritating sight in the workplace.
Here’s how to spot a Time Sink:
• They appear at your desk or phone you unannounced, and begin a long conversation that has little to do with work
• In meetings, they go off on tangents that leave you struggling to finish the proper agenda
• They deliberate endlessly on decisions that any normal person would make in a few seconds.
The worst thing is, their friendliness often makes it difficult to get mad at a Time Sink.
The solution: Just like you did with Mr/Ms Agreeable, you’re going to have to get tough with the toxic Time Sink in your workplace. Prepare in advance for their time-wasting antics by telling them exactly when you are available to talk. Don’t be shy about telling them you are too busy to talk when they show up at your desk. And interrupt their tangents by reminding them you are on a busy schedule. You’re not being rude – you’re just doing your job.
4. The Drama QueenThe problem: A Drama Queen doesn’t have to be a woman. It’s anybody who makes mountains out of molehills, whipping up hysteria from the slightest issue. It’s not hard to spot these toxic co-workers, but you’ll typically find them doing things like:
• Complaining to managers about small work issues, even ones they could resolve themselves or by talking to you or other colleagues
• Loudly seeking attention at work, by over-sharing their personal stories about their relationships, family troubles, crazy nights out, etc.
• Falling out with co-workers often, again over small issues that could be resolved by talking
• Playing the victim and looking for sympathy in any situation where they feel negatively treated.
The solution: You can’t change these people. The best thing you can do is protect yourself from their needless drama. Keep them at arm’s length, and make sure your work and behaviour are beyond reproach when you deal with them.
Remember also to be kind to them, and all of the toxic colleagues in your workplace. They have probably been through some harsh life experiences, which may be at the root of their behaviour.
Assertiveness in all your dealings with them is the way forward.
Now you know the 4 types of toxic colleague and how to deal with them, have you noticed a common thread throughout all of our advice? That’s right – you need to be assertive in your own actions.
After all, toxic colleagues are really just people who lack the skills or confidence to do their job well. By showing them what leadership and competence look like, you can get them under control – and protect yourself from their negative behaviour. Assertiveness training can help if you're struggling. Stay strong - you've got this!