In our personal lives, we consciously try our best to stay away from difficult people. We avoid their company, make excuses to skip party invites and generally keep problematic individuals at a distance. However, the office doesn’t offer us this luxury and we are often thrown into a random, mixed group of co-workers, whether we like them or not.
So we put on a fake smile or a permanent scowl and pretend that’s all is well. But when our insides clench every morning at the thought of going to work with Mr. X or Ms. Y, we know that all is, in fact, very far away from well.
Dealing with unpleasant workers is a chore that can sap up a significant amount of our productive energy. Some colleagues are unanimously disliked but the real energy-sappers are the ones whose toxicity sneaks up on us before we realise what hit us.
Situation 1: Co-workers who are over-burdened with responsibilities at home, such as a young baby, an ailing parent, a needy partner, interfering neighbour, financial trouble, ageing pets, dying plants…you get the picture. They also are (of course) fraught with health issues, such as back pains and headaches.
Toxic Fallout: You’re so busy taking care of them that you have no time or energy left to finish your own work. And you feel sorry for them. So sorry that you take on their workload, run to get them a cup of coffee during your break, spend every free moment being their shoulder to cry on – until you yourself are physically and emotionally exhausted.
The Trap: These are genuinely nice people who could actually use all the extra help they can get.
Tip: Remind yourself that their problems are their problems and ultimately they need to be able to separate their personal and professional lives. While there is no harm in providing a helping hand every now and then, figure out how much it’s costing your own productivity. Provide a listening ear when you’re both on a break. Tell them (gently) that you would love to pitch in with their work but you are caught up in your own. Do it with a smile. And move on.
Situation 2: Colleagues who can find something to complain about even in a fairy tale. They will find faults with everything at work – the boss, the project, the timings, the computer, the chair and, of course, the horrible, horrible coffee!
The Trap: There will always be something to complain about at work and you are likely to join in in their rants.
Toxic Fallout: You’re so focused on the negative that you forget that there are also good things happening with you at work. They will not only ignore silver linings on dark clouds, they will convince you that the silver lining you see is an illusion as well. They leave you feeling disgusted and unhappy. Soon you begin to wonder why you’re so cranky and crabby all the time.
Tip: Counter every negative thing they say with a positive thing of your own. For every hour spent with someone who complains, spend another hour with an optimist. Refuse to get sucked into their world of gloom and doom.
Situation 3: Co-workers who steal the credit off your project and piggy-back on all the work you’ve done well. They’re the team members who pick the easiest task and then ask you to help them finish it 10 minutes before the deadline. They are pleasant, fun people – they just don’t want to do any work.
The Trap: They’re your friends and it’s difficult to be mean to someone who shares his/her lunch with you.
Toxic Fallout: You lose credit for all the hard work you put in and have a dead weight in your team. Plus, you end up wasting precious time in trying to either push these colleagues to work or in protecting your own work from them.
Tip: The fact that you’re friends can actually work in your favour. Confront and tell them that as a friend you are concerned that their lack of input will affect their career. If a direct conversation fails, ensure that work responsibilities and progress are communicated through emails so that there is a record of who has done what. Don’t forget to CC the boss.
End note: Before you begin detoxifying your workplace, make sure you do a quick check to see if there’s something that you might be doing to add to the toxicity.