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How to Deal With Dysfunctional People & Toxic Coworkers on the Job

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Work can be stressful enough without the complication of toxic co-workers. These difficult people make it harder for you to do your job and decrease your satisfaction level at work. Developing coping strategies can help you anticipate coworker problems and handle the dysfunctional people at your job.

Use Selective Hearing

Some difficult people make antagonistic or controversial comments just to elicit reactions from their coworkers. Fortunately, you can choose not to participate in the drama. If your coworker makes a negative comment or passes along a piece of gossip, ignore it. If he presses you for a response, make a noncommittal remark and go back to what you were doing. If he continues, mention that you have a deadline and have to get back to work or choose that moment to make a trip to the coffee machine. When you politely remove yourself from the conversation, your co-worker will either drop the matter or find someone else who will listen to him.

Be Nice

Being nice to your coworker is probably the last thing you want to do if he creates a toxic environment at work, but it just might improve the situation. If your coworker is one of those people who believes that the world is against him, a kind word from you might just help him temper his reactions and tone down his comments. You can probably find something positive to say about him, no matter how much you dislike him. Admire the way he handled a difficult client or thank him for replacing the printer toner. Being nice won’t work with every dysfunctional coworker, but it’s worth a try.

Discuss the Issue

Although you can ignore the occasional antagonistic remark, it’s much harder to ignore a coworker who undermines you or tries to make you look bad. Ask him to meet you for coffee and bring up the problem. Tell him that you value your working relationship with him and are concerned about recent disagreements. Mention a few specific issues as examples. The "Harvard Business Review" suggests that you identify common ground, listen to what your coworker has to say about the solution, and propose a solution at the end of the conversation.


If your coworker is truly toxic, he might claim he wants to work with you to develop a better relationship, but then quickly reverts to his old ways. Preparation is the best defense in this case. If he constantly challenges you during meetings, anticipate his objections and questions and prepare your answers. Bring reports and statistics to meetings if you think they’ll help quiet your coworker. It won’t hurt to rehearse your answers. You want your demeanor to be calm and confident when challenged, even if you don’t really feel that way.