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Work is tough – there’s no way around it. From increased workloads to a lack of motivation, it can take a toll on your daily life. However, not all of this dissatisfaction comes from the job itself. It can come from a toxic coworker. These jerks are responsible for spreading gossip, throwing others under the bus, and making work unbearable.

So how do you identify and deal with them?

Assessing Your Behavior as a Coworker

While jerk bosses and leaders are often the cause of much of the stress and frustration in an organization, your coworkers can have just as much of an impact. Many of the “innocent” interactions and comments may not seem like a big issue, but over time, they erode your organization's culture and create a hostile environment.  

Many of these traits should be easy to recognize; however, if you’re having a tough time, then it may be time to look at some of your toxic characteristics: 

  • You Thrive on Gossip – It can be tough to ignore office drama. However, if you’re the creator of that super-secret slack group that originates said drama or everyone comes to your desk for the latest “tea,” that’s not good. 
  • You’re a Bit Judgy – Whether you consistently point out even the most minor grammatical errors, give negative feedback on your coworker's ideas or have a negative reception of your actions and decisions, you’re likely frustrating your coworkers.  
  • It’s “Not Your Job” – Small teams are the norm for many association professionals. That means everyone needs to pitch in – so “that isn’t my job” should never be your first response to new work. 
  • You’re Quick to Blame – Has nothing ever been your fault? While there’s a chance that’s true, a good coworker takes responsibility for mistakes the same way they do for victories. That means stop throwing others under the bus!
  • You Undermine Culture – For associations, values and culture are critical for keeping in line with your organization's mission. However, if you’re constantly mocking the culture or undermining your leadership team, it can significantly impact the overall morale of your team.  

How Coworkers Contribute To Your Work

According to Renaissance Executive Forums, “surrounded by toxic employees, nearly half of employees will decrease their work effort and intentionally spend less time at work, while 25% of employees on the wrong end of incivility take out their frustrations on customers.” For associations, that means your members can be on the receiving end of the negativity caused by one or two toxic coworkers. 

Similarly, all the negativity can also impact productivity. According to a Harvard Business Review study, 48% of respondents said incivility decreased their work effort, while 66% said their work performance declined. 

Of course, it isn’t all bad. Just like a toxic coworker can hurt your organization, good coworkers can help. For example, healthy work environments cultivate strong bonds, increase innovative ideas and boost productivity, so hiring the right staffers and focusing on retaining your top performers should be top of mind for all leaders. 

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Retaining Talent Learn More >

4 Ways to Deal with a Toxic Coworker

So, you’ve determined that you’ve got a toxic coworker problem – now what do you do? Chances are this has impacted the way you work as a team and created a work environment where you’re one snide remark away from handing in your resignation. 

While it can be difficult to imagine an amicable solution when these coworkers seem impossible to deal with, there are strategies you can implement to make some inroads. 

1. Talk It Out

Toxic coworkers can seem selfish and critical of everything around them – but there’s a chance they might not even realize they come off that way. So, opening the lines of communication allows you to point out some of these difficult situations and how they’ve been impacting you and your coworkers.  

A simple starting point can be something like, “Hey, I appreciate your feedback on my work, but you’ve interrupted me a few times (or pointed out mistakes on all my presentations), and that’s a bit frustrating.” 

If all goes well, they’ll see how their behavior may have been interpreted as toxic and make strides towards improving things. And if it goes wrong, you’ll know that the coworker in question is, in fact, a jerk. 

2. Combat Them with Positivity 

One of the most common traits of a toxic coworker is negativity. While this can bring everyone down and inspire others to start being critical of their coworkers, it doesn’t have to be this way. 

Instead, combat them with positivity.

Make it a point to encourage and celebrate your coworkers for a job well done, actively look for wins and promote them in a public forum or create groups where coworkers can support one another.

At some point, the rest of your organization will notice that all the negativity is coming from one source and will hopefully work to address it. 

3. Work On Your Coping Strategies 

The longer you deal with a challenging coworker, the higher your chance of burning out. One way to protect yourself is to work on your coping strategies. For starters, you can practice meditation or breathing techniques to calm yourself down and separate yourself from the workplace.

Another strategy is to remove yourself from the situation – whether that means exiting a group chat that has turned toxic or avoiding watercooler conversations that are draining you daily. Instead, focus on a project or simply get some fresh air to help you refocus. 

Finally, prioritizing your time outside of work can help you with many of these frustrations. Whether it’s a weekly yoga class or a hobby that helps you unwind, it is essential to take time to do something you enjoy and completely disconnect from work. 

4. Speak To Management 

It might not always be the best idea to take on a toxic coworker head-on. Not only can it create more conflict, but also, leadership may lump you into the same group of disrupters. Instead, open communication with your managers and let them know what the issue is. 

To avoid being seen as another drama creator, be sure to have some concrete examples of how this person has contributed to the organization's toxicity – this is where email threads or messages can be great evidence – and offer some suggestions on how you can work to improve it. 


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Also, you don’t have to point out one person in particular either. If you feel more comfortable, simply point out that morale is on the decline and see if your team can meet as a group to work on it – chances are the toxic coworker will gain some attention in these situations without your help. 

Bonus: Make a Change 

While you never want to let a toxic coworker win and affect the hard work you’ve put into your career, at some point, you also need to prioritize your mental health and happiness. 

Whether that means asking to be moved onto a different team, avoiding any projects where you would have to collaborate with that person or even taking some time off, you need to prioritize yourself. 

Of course, in the worst-case scenario, you can also look for a new role altogether, and there is nothing wrong with that. Everyone deserves to be treated well and work in a nurturing and healthy environment – and now more than ever – you have options!  

Dealing With Toxic Coworkers Shouldn't Be Difficult

You’ll have to deal with a problematic coworker at some point in your career. Whether they’re overly self-absorbed, are quick to point out your mistakes or create a culture rife with gossip and cliques, these situations should never be ignored.

Not only are these toxic work environments bad for your mental health, but also they can lead to decreased productivity and an overall decline in performance, which can, in turn, impact your members.

While getting into an all-out argument can be tempting, there are better strategies for handling a toxic coworker. Whether that means focusing on your coping strategies or talking to management for support, the days of dealing with a toxic coworker are long gone.

Jose Triana
Post by Jose Triana
May 24, 2022
Jose Triana is a writer and creative focused on helping purpose-driven organizations learn and find value online. When he isn't working on content, you can catch him going for a run or resting with a good book.