Toxic Co-Workers

How Do You Deal with Toxic People

How do you deal with Toxic People? Especially when they are a co-worker or a boss? How should you manage a toxic staff member? There are numerous articles published on this topic and that is because unfortunately the problem is a fairly common one and many of us find it difficult to find the best way to respond.

This article pulls together a range of insights, research and perspectives to provide some useful advice and techniques to manage these relationships most effectively without impacting you.

Seth Meyers writing in Psychology Today has four recommendations

  1. Avoid sharing personal information or your true opinions – The key point being that you should not share information with a toxic individual that you don’t want the world to know. While openness and honesty are usually positive ways to build healthy relationships, with toxic people this information can end up being used for emotional abuse or manipulation.
  2. Always be prepared, organised and centred – Preparation before you meet, having the right facts to hand will keep the discussion on topic and you are less likely to be caught off guard.
  3. Get the toxic person to like you – Meyers suggests one way you can do this is by asking a favour of them. Referred to as the Ben Franklin effect (because he discovered it), you can potentially change the dynamic of your relationship.
  4. Take care of yourself – Sadly its just not possible to make every relationship positive, so you need to make sure you build your own mental resilience and if you can’t resolve the situation remove your self from their orbit.

There are many types of toxic people in the workplace… manipulators, bullies, gossips, negative people, sabotagers and those whose presence just sucks the life out of a room.

Lisa Gulesserian from Thrive Global has three tips to help you deal with these people tactfully and professionally.

Limit your engagement
Be direct in feedback. Reframe negative conversations in a more positive light. Cut off conversations that you can’t control with a pre-planned excuse.

Reward Good Behaviour
Be intentional about who you spend time with. Praise the positive behaviour and use body language to consciously or subconsciously tell the person you don’t want to engage.

Protect Your Work and Your Reputation
Build strong positive relationships with other people. Let the strength of your work speak for itself and don’t respond to triggers – just ignore them.

When it comes to a toxic employee you are responsible how that person is effecting your team and the team culture so you can’t choose not to engage. Amy Gallo from HBR has these specific recommendations.

Dig Deeper – Seek to understand the root cause of the behaviour, they may have significant struggles in their personal life that as a supportive manager you can help them address.

Provide Direct Feedback – Many people just do not recognise that their behaviour is toxic and the destructive effect they have on others. Objectively explain the behaviour and its effects with concrete examples.

Explain the Consequences – For those driven by building their career, an explanation about how specific behaviour has potential to curb their future success can help them focus on how they behave.

Accept That Some People Won’t Change – You can’t change everyone, research by Christine Porath at Georgetown University found that 4% of people like to behave this way are aware of the impact they have and have no intention of changing their behaviour.

Seperate the Toxic Person – Move them away from other team members, immunise the rest of your team and deal with the problem directly.

Document Everything – Protect yourself and the company, in the event that you need to commence formal performance management or even dismissal having accurate evidence is important.

Don’t Get Distracted – You have an important job, managing a toxic person can absorb your time, energy and productivity. So do not let them distract you from key priorities, surround yourself with positive and supportive people to keep a positive balance.

Kings and Pawns
Image Credit: Pexels

Specific Principles to Remember


  • Talk to the person to try to understand what’s causing the behavior.
  • Give concrete, specific feedback and offer the opportunity to change.
  • Look for ways to minimize interactions between the toxic employee and the rest of your team.


  • Bring the situation up with your other team members. Allow them to mention it first and then provide suggestions.
  • Try to fire the person unless you’ve documented the behavior, its impact, and your response.
  • Get so wrapped up in handling the issue that you ignore more important work and responsibilities.

Key Takeaways

  • No matter if the person is a co-worker, employee or your boss, you need to ensure that you manage your own mental health and wellbeing as a first priority.
  • Remember many people don’t know the impact they have on others and potentially the behaviour is a symptom of other issues they are trying to manage.
  • If you need to address the situation formally document everything and remain professional.
Synopsis of 
an article from Inc.
Are You Stuck Dealing With a Toxic Customer or Co-Worker? Here's How to Cope
When telling off a rude, domineering, thoughtless, or manipulative person isn't an option, do this instead.
by Minda Zetlin
Published 29th August 2020

an article from Psychology Today
4 Ways to Manage Difficult People Who Have Power Over You
by Seth Meyers
Published 26th May 2020

an article from CNBC Make It
7 powerful tactics mentally strong people use to handle toxic co-workers
by Amy Morin
Published 11th February 2019

an article from Thrive Global
How to (professionally and effectively) deal with toxic people at work
by Lisa Gulesserian
Published 14th June 2018

an article from HBR
How to Manage a Toxic Employee
by Amy Gallo
Published 3rd October 2016

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