How to Tango With a Toxic Co-Worker

I had two internships in my college career in large offices. In that environment, it’s easy to avoid the people you don’t mesh with. However, I have been working for a company for the past 7 months in their small office in Queens, NY. When I say small, I’m talking three desks small.

This office functions solely for the purposes of air and ocean imports and exports. The office is generally quiet unless we all agree to a radio station or we chat about our weekend or plans for the night. I work directly with one other co-worker—we’ll call him Jim. Our jobs overlap and it’s a conveyor belt operation for the most part. The other individual in our office—say, Bill—works in sales. He was placed in our office due to the convenience of Manhattan being a quick subway ride away. Bill, however, creates a remarkable amount of office tension and passive aggressive behavior for one person.

On any given day I can walk into the office and be greeted with a “Good Morning!” or silence from Bill. It’s really a box of chocolates: never know what you’re going to get with this guy. After a while though, this becomes exhausting. Furthermore, as mentioned before, my job overlaps with Jim’s, and it is completely separate from that of Bill’s. So remaining professional and not losing my cool when Bill feels the need to chime in as though he knows how to do Jim or my job better than we can, or when he doesn’t give anyone a heads up about his sales meeting and shows up to the office at 2pm, or my favorite, when he complains there’s no coffee made as if I’m his barista. It truly tests one’s self-control.

So how does one refrain from their human instinct in such situations and remain professional?

Don’t Pounce!
As much as I would like to launch myself at Bill when he drops a passive aggressive comment, it would get me nowhere but in the unemployment line. Keep your cool and let their comments/body language roll off your back and remain focused on the job at hand.

We Have Two Ears and One Mouth For A Reason
Listen more than you speak, this way two things will happen; A) this office pain grows bored because you refuse to feed into his or her comments. B) You take in what they say and spit out something more professional, intelligent, and better thought out than their snide comment and leave them feeling like a stick in the mud by your verbiage alone. Additionally, do not under ANY circumstances gossip about this person in the office. It will come back to you.

When it Becomes Too Much
When you find yourself not wanting to show up to work because of a co-worker or you get anxiety in their presence, it may be time to talk to higher-up management. In this situation, one must approach the situation like a lawyer. Be professional, use your words efficiently and be direct.  Don’t do this person any favors by sugar coating their poor behavior. Remember that this talk with management not only reflects on the person but also reflects on your character and ability to deal with office tension.

Never allow yourself or your work to suffer because of a toxic co-worker. See if it’s possible to have this person removed from your office or your floor. If you report to this person, see if you can remove yourself from the situation and be assigned a new manager or position. There is always a way to change your situation for the better, you just have to look for it.

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Lauren Decker

My name is Lauren Decker and I was born and raised in New York. I am a charismatic business woman with a degree in Marketing from Hofstra University. Currently, I work as an Account Manager for an international logistics company. In my spare time I enjoy being with friends, reading, writing, playing tennis, cooking, and going to the gym.

  • Erin McGovern

    Working with people you don’t get along with is the sad truth that all of us entering the real world are starting to face! I really liked your tips! Keep writing! We all need more advice when it comes to keeping it professional!

    • Lo Decks

      Thank you, Erin! I’m glad I could be insightful 🙂

  • Rebecca Karow

    Thanks for the great tips on how to deal with this difficult situation! You’re a great writer. Keep it up!!

  • Joseph Renzo

    I really liked the two ears and one mouth bit of this article, I myself work in a hostile environment and would agree with the points hit by the writer. I FInd myself having to be the bigger person in my work situations and it definitely is self rewarding to do so no matter how aggravating it could be.

  • Joseph Renzo

    Work is work, just get it done

  • Samantha

    Great tips! People are so different in this world, we have to learn how to deal with them without becoming the bad guy ourselves! Hope everything worked out in your office 😉

  • Amanda

    This was definitely an insightful piece! Unfortunately, the workplace brings us many things we don’t want to encounter… like a difficult coworker! I agree with every point you made here, especially the fact that you should keep focused on the job at hand. Feeding into the negativity will ultimately get you nowhere and i think that is a great piece of advice. You have a great voice and I really appreciated your take on this! You are a great writer!