9 tips for dealing with toxic coworkers

Negative people in the workplace can take a toll on both your sanity and health. But before you point fingers ensure you've done you're part to build a healthy relationship. Here experts discuss techniques for dealing with difficult behaviors.

dealing with toxic coworkers
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No two people are exactly alike, but people do they do share traits - and those traits aren't always positive. Some prefer drama or negative attention. They are everywhere, including the workplace. They might be on your team or sit in a nearby cubicle. It could be your boss, a vendor, direct report or a coworker. They're combative, critical or nonproductive.

Unless you are very lucky, some probably work with you. You aren't likely to change them, so the best you can do is come up with a plan to mitigate the misery. We spoke with IT leaders as well as a mental healthcare professional to find out the best strategy to help reduce the drama and negativity in your work day.

Don't label people, label behaviors

There is a danger in labeling people as toxic, according to Pamela D. Garcy, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, career coach and author of the book, "How to make time when you don't have any: A new approach to reclaiming your schedule." Instead she recommends labeling the negative or toxic behavior. That's not to say that it isn't an employee's responsibility to behave well, but first you should return power to yourself, she says.

Understanding the behavior will help you identify the root of the problem and will likely help you build a strategy for having a more productive relationship with the person, whether it's your boss, a co-worker or a direct report. "Labeling and rating people limits you. You cannot see the potential in front of you because you're blinded by the label. Label the behavior instead of the person, if possible -- even if only as a mental exercise," says Garcy.

Are you part of the problem or solution?

It's easy to say it's all the other person's fault, but there are two sides to every coin. Are you contributing to the toxic behavior? Do you let this person's toxic behavior upset or frustrate you? Are you being pulled into the downward emotional spiral? More importantly what can you do to prevent this from happening?

"Be introspective. How are you contributing to the undesired behaviors and what is within your control to improve the situation," says Dustin Wells, chairman & CEO of Headspring, a provider of enterprise software strategies and development. The bottom-line is don't let your action or inaction add make a bad situation worse.

Change your perspective

Some things are out of your control. Chances are you aren't going to change this person, so your best bet is to focus on what you can control. That requires a change in perspective. Without the right perspective, warns Pamela Rucker, chair of the Technology Advisory Council for St. Jude Research Hospital and chair for the CIO Executive Council's Women in Leadership board, every issue may feel like a personal affront.

"Changing your perspective helps you cancel out the negative story you've told yourself about why the person doesn't like you, or why the person is working against you. If you can change your belief system at the root, then everything else that comes out of that will change, "she says.

Taking some time for yourself and changing your own perspective can help you adopt a more level-headed approach. Don't allow yourself to dwell on this person's behavior and get sucked into an emotional tailspin. Instead try to think of a solution. "You have at least two choices -- focusing on the problems or focusing on creating solutions.

Staying away from people-rating and focusing on problem-solving will help you. If you change your perspective to focus upon solutions, you're more likely to gain solutions. People-rating tends to stop you in your tracks... "says Garcy.

Style clash or toxic behavior?

Another important factor, according to Rucker, is to ensure you've made an important distinction. Are these people difficult to work with or toxic?

Difficult employees are those you say are opinionated or hard to get along with. They are sometimes protective of their turf, overzealous or stuck in their way of thinking. "It can seem like you're never able to get on the same page with a difficult person, and at times, it feels like every conversation you have with them is hard, says Rucker. However, she notes, that many times when you get to the heart of the matter, it may simply be a result of style clash and you're way of doing things may be contributing.

"I've found out that in many cases, the source of my difficulty in working with individuals can be a matter of relationship or style. This took a while for me to figure out over the course of my career, because I took people's behavior personally, and thought when people behaved badly they were deliberately being jerks and trying to give me a hard time. What I realized, though, was that I had a lot more to do with the difficulty of the interaction than I initially thought," says Rucker. She says she needed to step back and develop stronger relationships with certain people and take the time to understand their style and way of doing things. When she did, the result was a more productive working relationship.

Toxic employees, on the other hand, are dealing with more than just the ordinary issues of relationship and style. These are the employees who can spread negativity in your organization like a cancer. "Whether it's anger, fear, distrust, shame, hurt, abandonment, you name it, the toxic person has something inside of them that hurts those they come in contact with, and damages the fabric of a team, "says Rucker.

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