Unless you work from home, chances are you have to interact on a daily basis with a number of people with widely different personalities – and sometimes they just don’t mesh with yours. For many employees, it’s a serious enough problem to prompt looking for another job.
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But if you like everything else about your work, there are a few steps you can take to minimize a toxic co-worker’s negative impact on your workday, says clinical psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD.
- Create physical distance between you and your colleagues. “Creating a space, or even orienting yourself in a way that makes you just a little less accessible, can help you manage who gets to you and who doesn’t. This might be to your advantage,” Dr. Bea says.
- Try avoiding the co-worker. When you find yourself in a spot where people are infecting you with cynicism, criticism, gossip, or always wanting to be right, it’s a smart idea to protect yourself, Dr. Bea says. Try to avoid the co-worker or simply let him or her know that you don’t do well with gossip and perhaps they should share it with someone else.
- Stay true to yourself and your values. “Take your mission seriously – you don’t have to take yourself too seriously in it – but form good habits early on and stick with them,” he says. “Stubbornly refuse to kowtow to the avoidance behaviors that others might have, like showing up late, not going to meetings and finding shortcuts.”
Employers, take note
It would be beneficial for employers to take a holistic approach when hiring new people, Dr. Bea says. This means not only hiring people with the right experience and skills, but taking into consideration how well they would work with others.
It’s important to take into consideration who might be able to create a positive culture that promotes productivity, he says. One negative personality is all it takes to drag everyone else down.
“There are some organizations that are thought to have really good cultures,” Dr. Bea says. “Not everybody in that organization is a super-performer, but people do better and execute the mission of the company a lot more when they’re in those friendly environments.”
Research has shown that toxic co-workers cost companies far more than what the high performers add to the workplace, he says.
“Misery loves company, but the company doesn’t love misery,” Dr. Bea says.