Yes, You Can Make Office Politics Less Toxic

George J. Ziogas

There are ways to say enough is enough

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If you have ever worked in an office, it’s likely that you have, at one time or another, run into a co-worker with a toxic personality.

You know the one. It’s the guy who can’t stop complaining about company policy, the latest fight he had with his wife/girlfriend/sister/mother, and the project on which he is working currently. It’s the woman who makes sure no embarrassment or misstep of others goes unnoticed. It’s the employee who spends endless hours discussing all the gossip of the office, trumpeting all the failings and foibles of fellow workers with sadistic glee.

Just like poisonous air in the ventilation system, toxic employees wreak havoc in the workplace. They reduce employee productivity, create and nurture dissension at every encounter, and make office life a nightmare for fellow workers.

In your personal life, you may have a handle on how to handle toxic people. In many cases, you can simply avoid people riddled with negativity, surrounding yourself instead with positive people who lift your spirits and actively promote your emotional well-being.

However, in workplace settings, it’s not always possible to avoid a toxic person. After all, you have to work with all your team members, whether or not they are pleasant. Does this mean that you have no control over the situation?

Fortunately, it does not. There are steps you can take to negate the toxicity of co-workers and free yourself from the burden of negativity in your office. Here are five strategies to help you succeed.

Understand what is within your control

Unless you’re the boss, it’s unlikely that you have control over the actions of a toxic worker. However, while you can’t control what a co-worker does, you can control your reaction to it. Remember that toxic people often feed on the negative emotions and reactions of others. Avoid feeding a toxic personality by limiting your reaction to it.

Put on a happy face

Remembering that the best defense is a good offense, maintain control of your work environment by remaining positive, regardless of the circumstances. Refrain from making snide or hurtful remarks, either in response to a negative person or a negative situation. A smile has great power, and can often defuse a potentially toxic situation.

Keep your private life private

Like heat-seeking missiles, toxic co-workers enjoy ambushing fellow employees with weapons such as revealed confidences. Cut off an attack before it happens by carefully avoiding revealing details of your personal life to co-workers. Understand that what you confide today may be tomorrow’s break room topic of conversation.

Distance yourself, within limits

While you may have projects with a toxic team member, avoid being alone with poisonous personalities. There is safety in numbers. Distance yourself physically if possible. However, if you have to be in close physical proximity to your nemesis, remember that you can distance yourself emotionally by not getting sucked into the drama of a toxic situation.

Seek help from higher-ups

In extreme cases when a toxic co-worker is endangering your emotional well-being, your productivity, and the atmosphere for your entire team, it may be necessary to discuss the matter with your supervisor. Approach such a discussion with a professional attitude.

Avoid emotional outbursts while conveying the urgency of the situation with concrete examples of the ways in which the toxic employee is hampering the productivity of the team. You may be surprised to find that, while the situation appears obvious to you, your supervisor may be unaware of the issue. After discussing the matter calmly, allow time for your supervisor to find a solution to the problem.

The Takeaway

While you may not be able to completely remove a toxic person from your workplace, you can effectively neutralize the negativity around you by following these suggestions.

Remember, a toxic person only has as much power as you allow. You can control your mental outlook and combat negativity with a positive attitude, regardless of the attitudes of those around you.

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