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How to Tango With a Toxic Co-Worker

young professional
Lauren Decker
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Published on January 22, 2015

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.

Lauren Decker

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