There Are 3 Types of Toxic People at Work. Here’s How to Deal with Them

toxic people at work

You love your job. And most of your coworkers are the best (especially your work wife…and that guy who always brings in doughnuts on Friday). But then there are a few people that seem hellbent on making your life miserable. With help from the book No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy, here’s how to identify the three most toxic kinds of people in your office and the best way to deal with them.

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The Jerk

How to spot one: He elbows in front of you to get to the watercooler, he took credit for your group project last week and he stepped on your foot without saying “I’m sorry.” Once, he yelled at you in front of the entire department. The weirdest thing about jerks? Sometimes, they’re actually pretty great at their jobs. They just make your life a living hell while they’re at it.

How to deal: Hear them out…Fosslien and Duffy suggest actually having empathy for the jerk. “Ask yourself what might have happened in a jerk’s past to make them such a jerk?” Chances are, he had a rough childhood, or was treated badly at another job, and he thinks he needs to act this way in order to prevent being hurt by others. However, having empathy is not the same as opening up to him. “A jerk may try to ruin your reputation or abuse your vulnerabilities by telling others about your limitations.” If all else fails, see if it’s possible to move your desk. According to MIT professor Thomas Allen, people are four times more likely to speak regularly with a coworker who sits six feet away than with one who is 60 feet away.

The Dissenter

How to spot one: The Dissenter’s motto? “That will never work.” She’s always looking for ways to poke holes in your plan, but never seems to have a helpful suggestion for how to solve a problem. If it were you, you’d always offer a practical suggestion (or at least some encouragement) to follow up a critique, but the Dissenter has apparently missed the memo.

How to deal: First of all, listen to her. (We know, it’s tough.) Hidden underneath all of that snarky attitude and naysaying is a point of view that’s worth considering. Next, ask as many questions as you can to help nudge the Dissenter in the right direction. “What made you think of that? How would you suggest we improve this? Do you have any ideas for how it could be executed?” If all else fails, shower everyone else in the room with compliments. It’s easy to get sucked into a negativity spiral when one person is being a downer, but you can counteract her nitpicking by keeping things light and positive. 

The Slacker

How to spot one: He’s the guy who overpromises and underdelivers—basically, the complete opposite of you. But somehow, even though it’s apparent that he’s not pulling his weight, he gets lost in the shuffle (or charms other team members into taking on his work for him) and your boss never seems to notice.

How to deal: Don’t, under any circumstances, take on extra work for the slacker. (We know, this can be tough if it’s just the two of you working on a group project and not getting the work done will reflect poorly on you, too, but don’t be tempted.) Instead, tell your boss that you’re having trouble working with the Slacker sooner than later. “Remember that your job as a team is to get the work done in the best possible way,” Fosslien and Duffy say. And in this case, it means telling your boss what’s going on so she can address the weak link that’s slowing things down ASAP. 

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Freelance Editor

From 2015-2020 Lindsay Champion held the role of Food and Wellness Director. She continues to write for PureWow as a Freelance Editor.