How to work with people you don’t like

Got a toxic colleague? Here’s an expert’s tips on working alongside someone who is tricky to get along with, or downright difficult.

Most people have come across a challenging or toxic workmate.

They’re the person who stops at nothing to get a promotion.

Or they may be overly critical, cause drama and disruption, or deliberately hold on to information that a co-worker needs to do their job properly.

“Toxic workmates will say one thing and do another and try to find a way to cause trouble in the workplace,” says careers expert Michelle Gibbings.

Why do people turn toxic at work?

Insecurity and uncertainty about their own capabilities can lead to some people behaving badly in the workplace, according to Michelle.

“Like a playground bully, they think power is knocking out the competition around them,” says the author of Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate Your Career.

To disguise their fears, they push their way to the top.

“Their boss may think they’re fantastic, but everyone who works with them finds them untrustworthy.

“They don’t collaborate well and it’s always about them getting the credit.

“They undermine people and they may lie to make sure they look good to the detriment of the people around them,” Michelle says.

The effects of a toxic colleague

A toxic workmate ramps up stress levels and if you feel undermined and under attack this affects mental wellbeing, confidence and your ability to do your job effectively.

“We get a lot of self-esteem and satisfaction from work and are more engaged if we work with people we see as friends,” Michelle says.

“If you work with a toxic colleague you are always second guessing what is going to happen next.”

Managing difficult colleagues

If you’re working with someone who is making life difficult, how do you tackle the issue?

Take a step back:

Is the behaviour toxic, or is that person having a series of bad days and in need of some empathy?

“If it’s sustained behaviour, stand up for yourself. You don’t deserve to be treated like this,” Michelle says.

Don’t keep it to yourself:

If the problem colleague is a peer, talk to your boss or supervisor.

Ask them what they suggest you do next.

If it’s a boss, talk to HR.

“If that toxicity is impacting your mental health, the organisation has a duty of care,” says Michelle.

Extend an olive branch:

Sit down with the person, perhaps over a coffee and say: “I’d like to work with you, can we talk about how we best do that?”

“Check where they’re coming from and clarify their understanding of your intent. Clearing the air can help,” says Michelle.

Have examples ready to discuss. Don’t get emotional – staying calm disarms the other person and ensures you remain professional.

Written by Sarah Marinos.