Human Resources News & Insights

Toxic co-workers: 3 ways to stop their damaging behavior

Everyone encounters colleagues they don’t get along with, but when they exhibit toxic behavior, it’s an entirely different problem. Toxic co-workers are the ones without the best intentions, always trying to undermine their colleagues.

Some common toxic behaviors include:

  • backstabbing, criticizing, blaming
  • gossiping and spreading rumors
  • hoarding information, and
  • caring only about personal agendas.

This behavior is damaging to the workplace for a lot of reasons. People are less likely to work together as a team, and workers end up spending all their energy watching their backs.

And when toxic behavior isn’t questioned, it becomes a normal part of company culture.

Speaking up

Harvard Business Review contributor Abby Curnow-Chavez has three tips for dealing with a toxic co-worker whose behavior has gotten out of control.

  1. Have an honest conversation. By not saying anything, you’re allowing the behavior to continue — the co-worker isn’t going to wake up one day and realize they’ve been behaving badly. Try to focus more on how their behavior is impacting you. Ask them if anything you’re doing is causing conflict, too. The co-worker won’t want to listen if they feel like they’re being attacked.
  2. Have a goal in mind. It may be tempting to get defensive or resort to personal attacks, but this won’t solve anything. Be a role model for how co-workers should treat each other. Try focusing on the end goal. How will stopping the toxic behavior help the team’s work, or the office, as a whole? Getting the co-worker to see how the workplace could improve will be more effective.
  3. Let your boss know. While it’s good to address the person on your own, your boss could help facilitate a group discussion to work out any conflicts. There’s a good chance others have been impacted by the toxic behavior, so a setting where everyone can speak their mind is a good idea. This would be a great opportunity for the boss to remind everyone of respectful workplace conduct and how to address any future issues.
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