Negative or toxic behavior at work can rear its ugly head in many different ways. Whether it's constant complaining about a boss or coworker, dissatisfaction with the work/role/organization, critical/aggressive remarks or hoarding information, the effects of negative behavior from colleagues can be taxing on your mental state.
Toxic colleagues can erode team culture, tarnish your personal brand and harm the dynamics between a team. So what can you do when faced with a negative colleague whose behaviors are bringing you down? Let’s review some suggested courses of action!
Practice Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence is an important part of building relationships, creating trust and cultivating a workplace that feels more human. If you’re noticing a constant stream of negative energy from one particular colleague, flexing your emotional intelligence in the following ways could be helpful in turning a sinking relationship into a more productive one:
Find out why: The saying “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about” is a great mantra when interacting with someone's negativity. If there’s something going on in their personal life that is causing them to lash out at work, simply recognizing their struggles could be enough to help them show up more positively. Of course, you don’t want to pry into their personal affairs, but should the opportunity to talk about it arise, having a better understanding of their personal realities outside of work might help you humanize their behavior and build a stronger sense of empathy for them.
Offer compassion: Rather than trying to combat fire with fire, offer this colleague some compassion and express your desire to help. Perhaps they are feeling insecure about certain workplace relationships/events, or perhaps they could be drowning in work. By offering them help and support, you will create a safer place for them to put their guard down.
Create Personal Boundaries
It’s important to remember that negativity breeds more negativity, so if you’re surrounding yourself with negative energy, it will likely affect you more deeply than a simple annoyance. To create personal boundaries at work, consider the following:
Align yourself with positive people: The phrase “Your vibe attracts your tribe” can be true in both your personal life, as well as your work life. It’s important to align yourself with the people around you who see opportunity, excitement and reasons to be grateful at work, rather than get sucked into the energy of those who wish to see their glass as half empty.
Change your mindset: If someone on your team says something negative, or constantly creates a hostile environment, remind yourself that you’re there to work, and once you clock out, their behaviors and attitudes no longer affect you. Keep work to just work, and avoid creating a social life that revolves around this person. Stay calm, and remember that their negativity is likely a symptom of their greater unhappiness, which has nothing to do with you, nor is it your problem.
Diffuse the Situation
There are times when you won’t be able to (or won’t want to!) avoid this negative colleague. In order to co-exist harmoniously, diffusing the negativity that emanates from them is a strategy you can practice. To do this, consider the following:
Redirect the conversation: If you notice the conversation with your colleague is heading into a dark place, redirect it by switching topics and avoiding subjects that you know will set off negative alarms. For example, if this colleague has a problem with your current boss and spends most of your watercooler conversation complaining about it, try your best bring up topics you both enjoy and don’t engage in the boss-bashing.
Address the situation directly: If you’re unable to move the conversation into a positive place, consider having a direct conversation with your colleague about the problem. While this might seem intimidating, it could be a good opportunity for you to help them with their professional brand and reputation within the office. There is a good chance that they might be unaware of how their negative attitude is impacting their relationships.
You could say something like “I wanted to have a discussion about the energy that we both bring to the team. I understand the ups and downs that come with work, but I was hoping we could discuss how to make things more positive as we continue working together.”
Speak to the manager: Depending on the scope of the problem, you may need to reach out to your manager, given that someone’s attitude at work should be included in their performance management.
Managing your attitude in the face of adversity is a huge part of your personal brand. Negativity is contagious, so do your best to rise above, even though commiserating can feel good. Remind yourself, and your team, that you’ve all chosen to work wherever it is you are. How you choose to show up each day is up to you!
Stacy Pollack is a Learning Specialist with an MA in Educational Technology. She is passionate about building leadership programs that engage and contribute to the success of her organization. She loves to share her perspective on workplace development, career building, and networking for success. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or at www.stacypollack.com.