Toxic Colleagues – 7 Ways to Intelligently Manage Them

Every company has at least one difficult person (and if you can’t figure out who it is, check in and make sure it isn’t you.) When it’s your colleague or employee who is toxic, but brilliant at their job, you have to figure out how to work with them. You’re still going to have those days where you feel like they’re trying to suck all the joy out of your life but if you manage your interactions with them with them carefully, they won’t succeed. This is what you need to do in order to keep the work progressing and your sanity intact.

Set Limits

Toxic people are exhausting and if you let them, they’ll be at your desk every day about something. It’s up to you to establish and maintain those boundaries for your interactions. Just because you work on a team with or manage a toxic person doesn’t mean you have to be close and friendly with them. Sit down and define for yourself what you need your boundaries to be and then be diligent about enforcing them in a professional manner.

Stay Aware of Your Emotions

Your difficult colleague most likely enjoys pushing your buttons but you may not be aware that’s what’s happening if you’re not monitoring your emotions. Sometimes you’ll need to be able to take some time and regroup to be able to figure out how to move forward. Again, being aware of your emotions will allow you to recognize when these times come and you shouldn’t feel bad about needing to step back and assess.

Don’t Get Infected

Negativity is easy to spread because we all have our own insecurities and doubts. Spending too much time around a negative person can lead to those insecurities coming to the surface and to a more negative mindset in general. Don’t let this happen to you. Acknowledge their negativity and toxic outlook and focus on staying positive.

If you’ve been spending too much time around them and your self-talk has become negative, don’t let it bring you down. Be aware this is happening and work on changing your internal dialogue and, if possible, setting stricter limits on your interactions with them.

Stay Solutions Focused

If you keep your eyes on the muddy ground, you’ll never see the sky and where you focus your attention determines your emotional state. Being wrapped up in a problem you’re facing will only result in stress and negative emotions. In turning your attention to solutions, you will instead feel motivated and powerful and less stressed, all of which are positive emotions.

Difficult people will try to draw you into their personal drama and stress you out. They will be focused on their problems but don’t try to step in and fix the problem for them, which will only result in more stress for you. Instead spend your energy on figuring out how you can manage them. By keeping your eye on the task of how to manage them and their negativity, you’ll stay in control and be able to walk away unscathed.

Don’t Forget

Like small children, toxic people will try to manipulate you and require constant management. An emotionally aware and intelligent person can forgive their transgressions and move on but it doesn’t mean they forget. Don’t be bogged down by their mistakes and manipulations but also don’t forget them to the extent that a toxic person is able to manipulate you in the same way again.

Walk Away

Sometimes the best thing you can do is to literally walk away. When your difficult colleague is stressing you out, create the space for you to calm down and come back to the issue with a clear head. You’re likely missing something important because your emotions are clouding your good judgement.

Walking away might not always be possible but whenever it is, take advantage of it and tell them you’re going to think about it and come back to them. Take the time away to process and let go of the stress they’re causing and focus on what really matters – the work.

Sleep It Off

One of the best things you can do for your stress level is to sleep enough. Most people need 7 or 8 hours each and every night so carve out that time. Not only will enough sleep give you the emotional resilience to deal with your toxic colleague and daily stressors, but it’ll enable you to work better and faster. Your focus, attention and memory are all tied to your quantity and quality of sleep, as are your creativity, positivity and ability to handle stress. Keep your baseline stress levels lower with enough sleep and you’ll be better able to handle all the additional stress work and life will pile on.

In an ideal work environment, you wouldn’t have difficult colleagues to deal with but unfortunately, your company probably isn’t perfect. You can minimize your workplace headache by learning how to intelligently manage your difficult colleagues and keeping your stress levels low and your work focus high.


Amna is a writer and content strategist. As the Head of Content at Pinstriped, she’s responsible for everything with words you see on this website. If you find any mistakes, please let her know on Twitter or Instagram.