August 26, 2017

Working Around Toxic Co-Workers

Creating (and executing) a plan to work around a toxic co-worker can be the difference between an engaged and disengaged professional experience.

I was super-intentional around the subject line for “The Pursuit” newsletter this week.  Instead of writing “Working with Toxic Co-Workers” or “Dealing with Toxic Co-Workers,” I chose “Working Around Toxic Co-Workers” because I don’t think a toxic co-worker relationship can work.  There, I said it.  Toxic relationships at work are not sustainable and need to change for the sake of business results and professional engagement (and in many cases your sanity).

Earlier this month, I wrote about Identifying Toxic Co-Workers in the office.  I highlighted specific signs that identify toxic people in the workplace.

Now the big question – What to actually do about the person who’s causing disruption to the business and your Engaged Pursuit.

Here are some of my favorite strategies to working around a toxic co-worker.

  • Clearly define what you need for a project/initiative to be successful. Getting super-clear on your requirements, your strategy, your approach and your goals can make sure that toxic co-workers don’t pounce on any ambiguity of what you’re trying to do.
  • Don’t get sucked-in. Words might get sharp and/or limits tested when surrounded by a toxic co-worker.  Keep the altitude high and try not to “go there” with the toxic individual. Remember, you’re better than this.
  • Limit your exposure. Are some of your meetings with this individual optional? Can you send a proxy to limit the amount of time you’re spending with the person? Perhaps set an email rule where all the messages go to a central location (where you can deal with them all at once). Work to compartmentalize the interaction as much as possible.
  • Keep a record of how the toxic behavior affects the business/work. This is super important, especially if the situation gets escalated to upper management and/or HR. You’re going to want to have a record of the impact to the business (not as much impact on you, although we know that can be significant). Keep a notebook open and summarize weekly.
  • Give feedback (and keep it professional by focusing on the “what” and the “how”). Since the relationship isn’t going to improve, I think giving direct feedback to the individual and/or the manager is totally important. Remember, you want to keep it real-time and specific to the business impact, so don’t wait until it’s too late. Written or verbal feedback is fine (go the written route if you think escalation is possible).
  • Talk to management about a different team solution. It’s very possible that you need to move the toxic co-worker (or yourself) from the project/initiative. That’s fine (and probably better for everyone in the long-run). If the situation comes to this point, go to management with a specific solution, instead of “This just isn’t working.” You create the solution you want.

Your homework this week: Since you’ve hopefully identified any toxic co-workers that might be in your professional community, think about how you want to work around this individual (or individuals).  Are you able to implement any of the recommendations above? Do you have an alternative team solution that might not impact the business? Start thinking about solutions today!

Coming-up next week: We’re sending out a couple newsletters next week. First, we’ll tackle what to do if you’re MANAGING a toxic employee (yikes!) and we’ll also send out our monthly B.A.T.P (Book, Article, TEDTalk, and Podcast) related to toxic co-workers! It’s the end of August, can you believe it???

Here’s to your Engaged Pursuit!

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