Guest Contributor

How to Deal With a Toxic Coworker

By | Amir R

A Toxic coworker is any colleague who gives off negative energy, who makes the work environment unnecessarily unpleasant. Often, they are disgruntled, unhappy people. They may suffer from insecurity issues and feel the need to put others down in order to make themselves feel better. Or they may simply be bad at their job and feel the need to bring others down in an effort to mask their own incompetence.

A toxic coworker can be draining on you emotionally and physically. They can, if you let them, have a negative impact on your work and keep you from realizing your full potential. They can make the workplace unbearable, and you’ll need to take action to survive a toxic workplace.

Although there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, there are steps you can take and guidelines you can follow to minimize if not negative their negative influence. This article will outline some ways you can deal with a toxic coworker – one who is at the same hierarchical level as you. If you are dealing with a problematic superior, you may want to check out this article on how to deal with an incompetent boss.

Confront the Problem

An elephant in the room can do a lot of damage. It’s best to address the problem so that a solution can be worked out collectively.

It will take a good deal of finesse, tact, and savvy to address the problem of a toxic coworker without throwing fuel onto the fire. However, if left unchecked, the problem is more than likely going to get worse.

Confront your toxic coworker in the presence of another coworker.

This will help get your feelings known in the workplace without resorting to talking behind someone’s back. It’s possible that the toxic worker doesn’t realize that they are being problematic and they will take steps to correct their behavior. 

Even if they don’t, by confronting them in the presence of another coworker, at least the other coworker will have a better understanding of your expectations and they can be more aware of how they should act around you. Additionally, they may share your feelings, and they may be able to help you find a solution.

State feelings, rather than facts.

It is much more difficult to counter a statement of your feelings such as, “I feel you are being overly negative” than a statement of fact such as, “You are being overly negative.”

Additionally, a statement about your feelings will be potentially easier for the toxic coworker to digest, and they may not feel the need to be defensive.

Offer the toxic coworker an alternative.

When someone is being toxic, it is likely that they have cultivated this behavior or this attitude over a long period of time. Old habits are hard to break. Help them. Suggest an alternative to their current behavior or attitude.

Instead of saying, “Stop being so negative.” which would be potentially very difficult for them to do, try to show them constructively that there is a better alternative, e.g., “I think it would be more helpful if you highlighted the positive and gave us a goal or a standard to aspire to.”

More often than not, the toxic worker will continue being toxic, despite the calm and constructive way in which you’ve confronted them about it. However, before taking any additional steps, it’s important to give them the chance to correct their behavior. Also, since you are confronting them in front of another coworker, you are informing your other colleagues of potential problems and ways to avoid them.


It is next to impossible to avoid negative energy coming from a coworker. More than likely, this negative energy will be contagious and it will gain momentum. However, it can also be countered with equal, if not greater, positive energy. In fact, your toxic coworker can serve as an example, a teacher even, of what not to do, of how not to act.

Take the opportunity of the lessons in bad behavior and bad attitude the toxic coworker is giving, and try to counter – or foil – with the opposite, positive behavior or attitude. 

If the toxic coworker is an example of what not to do, by thinking about the opposite you should have a clear indication of what to do. Put those daily lessons into practice. Not only will you minimize, if not negate, the negative influence of your toxic coworker, but you will also be making yourself a better person and a better employee.

Explore Your Options

Once you’ve addressed the problem, it shouldn’t take long to find out if the problem is going to get better or not. And once you’ve tried to counter their negative energy with more positive energy of your own, it shouldn’t take but a few weeks to find out if that is a sustainable strategy or not.

Ultimately, once you’ve thoroughly explored those first two options and the problem persists at an unbearable level, you will need to seriously consider finding a different, more positive work environment to be in.

Toxic coworkers and toxic work environments are becoming less and less prevalent. People simply aren’t putting up with it. Don’t think because you’ve had a negative experience in one company that it is a product of the sector of activity or the location you are working in. Toxic work environments are the exception, not the norm. Explore the job market. There’s a chance that you can find an enriching and fulfilling positive environment to thrive in.


There is a contagious nature to toxicity, and you need to be vigilant that the person who is trying to bring you down doesn’t succeed. Address the problem. It won’t go away on its own. Suggest alternatives, learn from the toxic coworker what you should and shouldn’t do, and counter the negative energy with even more positive energy of your own. If the problem persists, consider exploring other workplace options. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the practical reality of dealing with a toxic coworker.

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