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How to survive and thrive despite toxic co-workers

How to survive and thrive despite toxic co-workers

We all spend nine to ten of our active hours dealing with work. During the other hours, we are just trying to ensure that our health remains good, our skin glows, we pay our bills timely, walk our pets, cook three meals, and a gazillion other things without losing our sanity. In such a toiling and fast-paced life, the last thing we need is a toxic co-worker sucking the life out of us. Unfortunately, they come packaged with almost every job we take. So what do you do? You ace the tacts of dealing with toxic co-workers in a way that their claptrap does not hamper your mental peace. While we would all love to avoid such colleagues, organised businesses require dynamic teamwork. Teams need to be collaborative and adaptive more than ever. In such a scenario, dodging your toxic team member might not always be possible.

If you observe closely, unpleasant co-workers come in all forms — the micromanagers, the gossip-mongers, the free-loaders, the know-it-alls, the boss’s pet, the over-positive one, the negativity inducers, and several others. Some common problematic behaviour patterns you will notice are backstabbing, unreasonable criticism, spreading baseless rumours, not sharing but hoarding information, acting like they know how the universe works, agreeing in a team meeting and nitpicking later, undermining their peers, and being overtly self-centred, etc. And the worst part, you ask me, is that many of them appear so sweet on the surface — you’d never guess what’s waiting for you. While they survive and thrive on the drama they create, you can only learn to survive and thrive despite them.

How do toxic co-workers impact the company?

Negativity-spreading colleagues often ruin the peace and calm of the entire workspace, and it stretches beyond physical confines to impact remote workers too. Most of them behave in a manner that creates an unnecessary commotion that distracts everyone and slows down progress. Many members’ precious time gets wasted in clearing their political mess, the same time that could have been spent brainstorming, innovating, and executing. It leads to a stressful environment, shifting the focus from company growth to personal vendettas.

How do they impact other people?

On an individualistic level, toxic co-workers induce constant fight-or-flight responses in your mind. Any interaction with them will leave you wanting to either punch them or run away. If science is to be trusted, the brain produces large amounts of hormones called cortisols during such situations. They adversely affect mental and physical health by causing high-stress levels.

Not just so, the toxicity of such people, if it impacts you personally on a daily basis, can lead to higher levels of anxiety and panic and impede judgment, confidence, and productivity. Furthermore, notorious interactions, if prolonged, can cause sleep issues, physical discomfort, loss of appetite, constant exhaustion, and loss of energy. For these reasons, it is extremely important to know how to deal with such people.

Other than impacting physical and mental health, problematic workers can lead to sub-standard performance at work. Dealing with this colleague can take up a lot of your space and energy, which you could have expended in getting some work done. You may also be left doubting your work, potential and relationships with other team members. It’s understandable it can get really overwhelming, to the point that you start hating going to work and might want to switch jobs. That, however, can not always be feasible.

The bottom line remains that you can either take the brunt of such people’s behaviour or train yourself to tackle them in a way that doesn’t blow your marbles. And in such a context, ignorance can be pure bliss. While you may not be able to remove such people from your sight or day entirely, you can work on limiting your interaction with them. Further, you can work on controlling your reactions towards them. Remember, while you can’t control the wind, you can adjust the sails.

Dealing with toxic co-workers

1. Choose your battles
New York Times best-selling author Mady Hale rightly said, “Choose your battles, you don’t have to show up for every argument you’re invited for.” and I agree. Many manipulative colleagues will invite you into ‘us and them’ conversations that sabotage otherwise healthy relationships and cause conflict. Don’t indulge. Maintain a calm approach and don’t participate in any discussion that does not serve the purpose of growth.

 2. Maintain distance
While complete ignorance might seem out of bounds since you work together and will have to cross paths at some time or the other, you can analyse where such team members need to be approached or involved. If you feel that their involvement can be forgone, go ahead and let them be.

Apart from maintaining a professional distance, do maintain a personal distance. While you should be civil with everyone at work, there’s no need to make friends with everyone. When you recognise a person with malignant traits, do not entertain them. If you realise one of your close friends is exhibiting disruptive behaviour, confront and counsel them. If nothing works, start practising detachment — it might hurt initially, but it will be beneficial in the long run.

3. Call out toxic co-workers
Yes, choosing your battles and maintaining distance are the preferred ways of going about your work life, but situations where you come face to face with toxicity can always come up. I didn’t wake up and choose violence today, but you do not need to be tolerant at all times. While you can’t change the other person, you can call out their behaviour and make them realise nothing goes unnoticed.

4. Set boundaries for yourself
Setting boundaries in personal or even professional life is not selfish. It just goes on to show you value your mental peace. You don’t need to talk to everyone about everything. If someone approaches you with office gossip, be assertive enough to tell them you are uninterested in such conversations. If people often interrupted you in public, say that you’d like to finish before taking inputs. It might upset people initially, but eventually, people will respect the lines you draw. It will save trouble in the long run.

One thing you should be mindful of while setting boundaries is that you should always uphold your integrity. Don’t become what you hate — you don’t need to stoop down to someone else’s level to uphold your boundaries.

5. Shift your mindset
Changing your mindset will not change how others behave. However, it helps you deal with people and situations better. You can learn from all setbacks and sour experiences and be wiser in future.

6. Put toxicity on record.
Many manipulators work ‘behind the scenes’ in a way that not many will understand what exactly happened unless several confrontations take place. If you see someone trying to bring you into a questionable position, confront them over email/texts, making it difficult for them to deny anything at a later stage.

You can also do this by speaking to HR or your boss. What do you want to report and what you’re seeking are two things you should be clear about before reaching out for help.

7. Confide in someone
If there’s someone in your organisation that you can trust or call your friend, you can speak to them and de-stress yourself. There’s nothing wrong with seeking support or seeking someone who can lend you an ear to rant. It is completely human and helps you unwind before you navigate your steps ahead.


While a tiger will never change its stripes, having a better response mechanism will help you. Toxicity can take a toll on your peace. Hence, it becomes important to stay strong and practice healthy coping skills.

Remember, as against what you usually hear, your work is only a part of your life, not your entire life. It’s imperative for you to take out time to care for your mental and physical well-being. Maintain your mental strength by including a good diet, exercise, meditation, or mindfulness in your life.

While antagonistic colleagues focus on drama, you can shift all your focus on working better, personal growth and achieving your goals. After all, rendering desired results take you a long way, not office politics.

With a spoonful of ignorance and a spoonful of patience, survive and thrive despite toxic co-workers. And remember, don’t let anyone dim your light and continue to shine on! Happy working!

Vidhi Arya

Vidhi Arya

Vidhi is a law graduate turned content writer. She loves being in the lap of nature, discovering local handlooms, and cold brew coffee. In her free time, you will find her doodling with her two furry companions by her side.