5 April 2013, 18:21

Experts reveal how to instantly fix your toxic colleagues

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Whiners, toxics, energy drainers, —these are probably one of your coworkers. One survey found that complainers waste 3 to 6 hours talking about their issues with other co-workers. Dealing with them in person can be difficult, however with new ways to connect via social networks, will office jerks just get worse? Two leading US experts share their insight with the Voice of Russia on how to deal with them both in the office and virtually.

Briefly put, a toxic co-worker eats up your time, can be very negative, obsessive, politically incorrect, or even play the victim card, not to mention be raging drama queens. But pushing these poisonous colleagues away won’t do much good—as they have probably used these communication techniques since they were children.

Regardless of how lethal a worker is, key strategies can help cure the employee who acting out. Though beware, no one size fits all approach exists. “If you have a whiner, debating with them is not going to work. If you have someone who is controlling and demanding and domineering—empathizing, caring, and asking about their feelings is not going to work. Spot what kind of behavior they have,” insisted Linda Swindling, author of Complainers and Energy Drainers (Wiley). After you realize who you are dealing with, figure out what need they are trying to meet.

Swindling illustrates: “If somebody is whining, what they may be trying to do is get empathy or have someone help them make decisions.” Negotiate with the complainer but stay realistic about your expectations. You may not be able to take the toxic out of a colleague but usually you can stop them from being toxic to you.

Still, the question of why people become toxic at work could be varied, from communication problems with their boss, or even too heavy of a workload. “People are toxic because power goes to their head and they become nasty, mean spirited, aggressive, controlling, ruthlessly ambitious, greedy, and they start doing vicious things to other people,” related Dr. Linnda Durre, psychotherapist, business consultant, and author of Surviving the Toxic Workplace (McGraw Hill).

In order to keep the workplace calm and the people productive, a few more go-to steps can be used. As one method will not work for all, Dr. Durre has a few suggestions of her own from the years of experience she’s had dealing with toxic workers. One technique Dr. Durre has coined is called “The Sandwich.”

“The Sandwich is putting ‘the bologna between the bread’ – it is starting out positive with a genuine compliment about the person; then giving the difficult feedback (I never call it criticism), and then finishing with a positive and hopeful statement that the situation can be successfully resolved so you can work together,” Dr. Durre told the Voice of Russia.

However, as we step into less face time and more virtual time with co-workers, toxicity could become more of a problem. Likewise, toxic workers can, in different ways, spread rumors or complain via Facebook, Twitter, or blogs, without your knowledge. “It is so underhanded, cowardly, and passive aggressive,” stated Dr. Durre. “You also don’t hear their tone of voice or see their body language.”

Which toxic worker is more tolerable though? “The one in the office may be easier to confront in person by taking them out to lunch. A virtual person is never there, they can be like ghosts,” remarked Dr. Durre. Even though you don’t get a minute to breathe with face-to-face colleagues polluting your space, virtuals can be far harder to handle.

“It’s tougher with the virtual because you don’t get to see facial responses. A lot of times what we do is via email or instant messaging and so it can be harder to build relationships and you also can’t really,” explained Swindling. She added, “You don’t get to bond, you usually haven’t had team building.”

Gamers who play as an online network though seem to get along just fine, and learn to trust and team build with the players who come online. If these gamers, who can be a range of ages in all different countries, are able to work as a team then, co-workers who are virtually commuting with in-office workers should be able to adapt as well.

Are you dealing with a toxic co-worker and how much of the time? To find out what type you are dealing with, you can visit Linda Swindling’s site, follow the instructions, enter the special code VOR, then take the assessment. After 3 or 4 weeks’ time, the Voice of Russia will post the results of what kind of complainers you are dealing with in your work environment.

Until then, people are only going to adjust if they want to, no matter how toxic they are. No matter what kind of toxic you are dealing with, one of the strategies from either expert may be the most ideal way of coping with lethals at work.

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