Dealing with a toxic coworker or boss can be hard. Here are several approaches you can try. Just make sure you document each offense and keep your cool.
Robin Toth hated her boss. It didn’t start out that way. When she interviewed for the job as an assistant art director at a leading trade publication, her supervisor seemed nice. A couple of months into the job, her situation changed.
Her boss became belligerent. At meetings, she’d raise her hand and offer suggestions and her supervisor would shoot her down and occasionally make rude comments. She felt bullied and insecure.
“I talked to her privately and she wanted no part of me,” Toth said. “I later learned she had a major illness, and I felt sorry for her. Still, I had to work with her, and she was a bully.”
Toth found empathetic listeners amongst her coworkers. All but one was helpful. “One of the people in my department kept on complaining about our supervisor, about her workload, and then she started gossiping about other coworkers. Just spending a few minutes around her was exhausting.”
It would be great if everyone at work were good friends. “I decided to talk to our HR (human resources) director,” she said. “She helped me put things in perspective.”
Dealing with the coworker was easier than dealing with her boss because she found ways to avoid the coworker. “I learned not to empathize with this person,” Toth said. “That’s how we initially bonded. She said something negative about our boss, I agreed, and it became a relationship of sorts. It got out-of-hand when all she did was complain.”
Her coworker also took a lot of time off, which meant Toth and the others in her department had to pick up the slack. “I decided not to have lunch with her and when she approached me to talk,” Toth said, “I told her that I didn’t have time, that I had to work.”
She felt a bit guilty and knew she could make the time, but the relationship was toxic. Eventually, her coworker latched onto someone else. “I think that worker will eventually do the same thing I did,” Toth said.
Toth said she also found a sympathetic shoulder amongst her friends who worked in other jobs. “They, too, had difficult coworkers in their offices,” she said. “It’s more common than not.”
How to deal with toxic coworkers
Another approach is to talk directly to your toxic coworker or boss. If you choose this course of action, stay calm. Don’t raise your voice or act defensive. Just present the facts. The bullying coworker or boss may be unaware of her behavior. If that doesn’t work, talk to the bully’s supervisor.
If you suspect that you’re not the only victim affected by the toxic coworker, rally your coworkers who are also being bullied by this person. Approaching a supervisor as a group gets better results than if you are alone. Before you talk to a supervisor, get everything in writing. Document each offense over the course of a day, week, or month. This way, when you speak to someone in charge, you’ll have concrete examples of the negative behaviors.
You’ll also need to learn about the policies and protocols of bullying behaviors at your office. Training programs, support services, and other resources may be available to you. You can ask a supervisor or HR person.
Another tactic is to try to work as a team with the toxic coworker. You can ask him opinions on the task at hand and get him involved in the decision-making process. This can have a positive effect on him personality and make him feel that his opinions matter.
How to deal with a toxic boss
Dealing with a coworker is easier than working with a toxic boss. If you can’t talk directly to your supervisor, go above her head. Again, make sure you document each incident. Talk to other coworkers who may be having a similar problem with the boss. There is strength in numbers.
If you are not getting the support you need from your supervisor or if the boss who’s making your life miserable at work is the only one in charge, you might want to start looking for a new position at another company.
April 06, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN