6 Types of Toxic People at Work and How to Deal with Them

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Toxic Coworkers


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Karen Schneider, PMP®, PMI-ACP®, CSM®27
Experienced Project/Program Manager
July 23, 2024 at 9:16PM UTC
Back when I was in high school, there were always certain cliques that were mean and bullied certain classmates. Like me, most people expect that once they graduate, they will never encounter that type of behavior venturing into the working world. 
Most young adults hope that once they've landed their dream job, they will be part of a team that supports each other in their professional growth. The great news is that you will likely come across many people who do so and will even help your career thrive.  
Unfortunately, the bad news is that bad behavior isn't limited to the walls of schools, and there are also colleagues that can impact your performance (and your life) negatively if you're not careful.

How do toxic coworkers impact you?

Do you know a toxic person at work who is having a negative impact on you? Are their complainers on your team who are bringing down your vibe and really starting to drain you? If you've been in the professional world for a while, it's likely that you've encountered at least one of these toxic time and energy vampires. And the negativity of a toxic employee can hurt your career, while the toxicity of an entire company culture might make you even want to change your career. Remain calm. These self-absorbed people and their bad behavior can be broken down into the following categories, and I'll tell you how to deal with the negativity and any kind of toxic personality at work.

6 types of toxic people at work

1. Gabby the Gossiper

If there's an office romance happening, it won't be kept under wraps for long if Gabby has anything to do with it. Actually, if anything is happening at all, Gabby is sure to know. Generally every office has at least one coworker who has a big mouth and airs the office dirty laundry for all to hear. Unfortunately, such personalities usually garner a lot of negative attention that can definitely shine that same light on you if not careful (and makes it appear that your actual work isn't your top priority). Gabby is usually very outgoing and friendly, so you may not even realize you're being pulled into the drama until after you've been roped into a conversation or work friendship. Here's what to do if you find yourself knee-deep and unsure of how to retreat to safety. 
How to handle it: 
Keep it friendly, but short and sweet. Excuse yourself and explain you're late for a meeting — even if the truth is you're just late for your morning cup of coffee. Or change the subject when Gabby begins to gossip. 

2. Inappropriate Inga

Inga considers herself extremely knowledgeable and feels compelled to share her opinions and advice with you, whether you asked or not. She may even become snarky and judgmental if you ignore said advice. Pushy and inappropriate, she has difficulty with respecting personal space and boundaries. No question or intrusion of privacy is too much for Inga to recognize her actions are inappropriate. Been dating your significant other for a year and not engaged? Inga will ask why and may even lecture your S.O. at the holiday party if given the chance to corner him (if you think it can't, I have actually witnessed this...). 
How to handle it: 
Space, so much space. Also, lack of engagement in any conversation not solely dedicated to work is the only route to cut Inga off at the pass. If asked an inappropriate question, state that it is making you uncomfortable and divert the conversation back to a work-related issue. If Inga doesn't take the hint and refuses to back down, you may need to involve your manager and/or HR sooner rather than later. 

3. Negative Nancy

Talk about a drain on your energy and motivation. Nancy knows how to turn even the most positive statements and situations into depressing pity parties. 
How to handle it:
Respond with positivity as much as you're able to, without starting a positivity tug-of-war. If Nancy insists on dragging you into the mud in hopes you'll wallow with her, excuse yourself. No need to waste your energy or resources here. 

4. Competitive Chris

Chris always wants to win and may become obsessed when presented with any opportunity to prove he is the best. He may resort to bragging, belittling you/others, or even manipulating others in the office. Even fun activities can be dampened by Chris's eagerness to be number 1. 
How to handle it:
While there is nothing wrong with someone striving to be their personal best, it is not appropriate when they go to extreme measures to win — especially not at the expense of others. Recognize that ultra-competitive people may be battling personal insecurities and feel they need to prove themselves to make up for whatever they believe they might lack. Though it can be difficult to remember this when Chris is being annoying, practicing sympathy and understanding can sometime help to calm you when you're agitated. Remember that you should focus on yourself and doing your best and refuse to take part in Chris's 'game.' 

5. Jealous Julie

Envious people aren't focused on their own happiness or their own lives. If you just got awarded that new project, got a promotion, or even just got engaged, chances are that Julie is having a hard time dealing. Comparison is the thief of joy. 
How to handle it: 
We all have our moments where the green-eyed monster pays us a visit, no matter how secure we are in our career or otherwise. Unless her behavior turns particularly aggressive or otherwise harmful, first try to practice empathy with Julie. Taking the high road is a steep, difficult road to travel, but well worth it if at all possible. If you did get a promotion that Julie was hoping for, consider involving her on the next project you're spearheading to utilize her skills and bolster her confidence.

6. Mean Girl Mariah

OK, maybe we should call her Regina, but Mariah is just a mean person. She, like Inga, may not have boundaries and understand how to treat others. As a result, sometimes the things she says and lines she cross can be shocking. She has plenty of audacity and isn't worried about hurting anyone's feelings. 
How to handle it:
Mariah, Julie, and Chris have something in common: deep-rooted insecurity. It takes an unsure, unhappy person to drag another down. If Mariah is especially hurtful or inappropriate with her workplace venom, HR should absolutely be involved. Ultimately you (and others) have the expectation and the right to work in a safe environment without feeling attacked, physically, emotionally, or otherwise. 

Handling toxic people at work

Dealing with these personalities is hard work, make no mistake. No matter the type you encounter, physically distancing yourself from all of the above toxic coworkers can be a big help if you're able to do so, and eliminate a lot of stress. Speak with your manager privately and ask to move your desk space if it's a matter of sitting a bit farther away to get the quiet needed to focus (not to mention your peace). Either way, your manager should be your biggest ally in these types of situations. Set up a one-on-one meeting with your manager; be sure to leave emotion out of your conversation and use facts to explain how said behaviors are negatively impacting your performance. Offer solutions that would improve your situation, as this will demonstrate to your manager that you are proactive and want to do a great job — you just need a little help. 

Toxic people in the workplace: the bottom line

The fact is that toxic behavior can be found anywhere — you may have had a toxic relationship before in life; maybe you have a toxic friend, or maybe you sometimes find yourself surrounded by self-absorbed people, judgmental people or temperamental people in your social circle. These can all have a negative impact on your health since they can stress you out and mentally drain you. But toxicity can also be pervasive in the workplace. And a toxic employee can bring a lot of negativity to the office. Complainers and all-around negative people aren't good to be around professionally. But remain calm, keep your feelings positive, and avoid the toxic behavior at all costs, even if you have to have a working relationship with a toxic person to some extent.
Your most challenging coworkers will encourage your professional growth and groom your leadership skills. Remember, you cannot change a person or their behavior, but you can control how you react and deal with conflict effectively in the workplace.
Karen Schneider works for bareMinerals in Global Packaging + Creative Services and is a personal/professional development writer. She currently contributes to The Muse and Career Contessa and has been featured on Business Insider, Fast Company, Inc., and Harvard Business Review for her career advice. She's obsessed with learning, life, and career/self-improvement. 

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