Despite my love-hate relationship with social media (why, oh why, is it designed to be so distracting?!), I love Facebook groups. Why? Because they give us the opportunity to get advice and ask questions that we wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to easily crowdsource. And one question I see posed over and over is: how to handle toxic coworkers?
But here’s the thing that tends to get missed in the advice: there really is no such thing as a toxic coworker*. *There is truly toxic behavior which is not what I’m talking about here: breaking the law, unethical behavior, harassment, etc.). None of that is ever okay!
You’re likely thinking to yourself, “This lady has no idea what she’s talking about! What about that woman at work that constantly talks over me and belittles my ideas?! She is so toxic!”
And listen. I get it. Her behavior warrants some change, and I totally understand your thinking. But let’s get to the root of why someone feels toxic to you: their behavior makes you feel bad.
And why does it make you feel bad?
Because your brain makes their behavior mean something.
Let’s take the example of the girl who talks over you and is always saying how terrible your ideas are. What do you start telling yourself about her behavior?
It’s usually something like this:
- She doesn’t respect me! Who does she think she is?
- Is my idea dumb?
- I’m never going to get ahead in my job because of her. I’m going to have to get another job!
- And on and on and on… until the spiral consumes you and you’ve spent half your day feeling angry and upset about what happened within a two minute window during a meeting that everyone else has already forgotten.
And from all of those thoughts and feelings, what action do you usually end up taking?
Do you refine the idea you put forward or do you throw it away? Do you spend the day sulking and being unproductive, perhaps gossiping to your work bestie about it? Are you rude to her in front of your colleagues? Do you start looking for other jobs?
And is any of it getting you the results you want?
Let’s consider another way: Same situation, but a different thought response which comes from curiosity and taking a step back:
- I wonder if she might be threatened by my ideas and that’s why she acts that way.
- Maybe that’s how she learned to be heard growing up, maybe she had to talk over others to get a word in.
- She has a point about that idea; I hadn’t thought about that one aspect she brought up.
With these new thoughts, what would your actions be?
Do you ask a follow-up question on why the idea wouldn’t work so you can brainstorm a different way? Would you give your colleague more grace and understanding coming from this new viewpoint? Do you treat her with more respect and ultimately show your own high level of maturity?
Now, I know what you’re might be thinking now: “But, Stacieeeee, she still keeps interrupting me and downplaying my ideas!”. And this is where having these more curious and reflective thoughts help you to create boundaries from a place of respect instead of anger or insecurity. You can still have a conversation with your colleague. But the new thoughts may allow you to drop your guard and create less friction, and thus, get a better result.
Ultimately, it’s always possible your coworker won’t change; that’s life. The only behavior you can control is your own. But you can always decide:
- How to think about it and what it means to you,
- What boundaries you want to put in place, and
- What actions you want to ultimately take.
We all know you can go to HR or your manager, but perhaps for fewer situations than you thought.
The best part about all of this? You have control of how you feel and how you react, and in ANY situation.
Just like Eleanor Roosevelt said: “”Remember no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Looking for something similar? Head over to my post – Not all jobs suck. Here’s how to find the good ones.