Toxic colleagues

Dealing with different personalities all day can be exhausting, but perhaps some insight to their behaviour will help you cope....

Although some of us have been able to achieve a harmonious work environment, others often have to deal with toxic and problematic colleagues. Reports of backstabbing, undermining, bullying, gossiping, etc. are all too common and can make your life miserable.

Industrial psychologist Zoe Luthuli says there are different types of personalities in the workplace and each type has a career that is best suited to it. "For example, creative people are usually very empathetic and expect everyone else to be just as empathetic towards them," Luthuli explains. "There are people who use feelings and emotions to communicate and deal with other people. These people will always put other people first. Not that they are not aware of their own feelings, but they choose to put them aside and deal with what the next person is going through."

Luthuli says these people keep their feelings to themselves until they can't take it anymore. "In a workplace, they either end up throwing a hissy fit or resigning."

But you can't quit your job every time you have a colleague that drives you insane. It's almost guaranteed that you're going to meet another toxic colleague at the next company. The best you can do is learn to identify the difficult types and deal with them effectively.

The spoil sport
This colleague brings negativity into the workplace. They complain tirelessly and often draw you into their web of disillusion. It’s very hard to deal with people who bring your mood and positive attitude down.

Expert opinion: Many self-help book authors advocate the power of positive thought and teaching people how they can use it to their benefit. One way of dealing with negative people at work is to be "grateful for what you have or what you are", says one of the teachers of the book The Secret by Rhonda Byrne.

American motivational speaker, Lisa Nichols says, "Be grateful, think positively, act positively and other people will see a happy person who is enjoying life. This makes it hard to be negative around you."

The gossip monger
This is one of the most toxic colleagues to have around. They often cause unnecessary anger, hurt and embarrassment. In some cases every little personal detail you share with her may as well have been broadcast on radio and all the facts would have been twisted, to make for juicy gossip.

Expert opinion: Life coach Josh Green says the best way to handle people who gossip is to ignore it and not engage in it. "If fewer people participate in gossip, it won't be as powerful in the office, and whoever is spreading it will eventually stop.”

The underminer
There's no problem in having a colleague who's more experienced to teach you new aspects about your job. But it could become a problem when your colleague suddenly thinks he or she can give you instructions, and criticise you non-stop, even though they're not your boss.

Expert opinion: Recruitment specialists advise their clients about job descriptions and who they will be reporting to. "Be on the safe side and ask for a signed printout of your job description," explains Nombuso Nzama, an HR specialist for a major media group. "Save all email correspondence between you and your bossy colleague, and then report it to your boss. Speak up about it before it's too late and ask for clarity whenever you need to. You may not become the most popular person in the office, but at least you would have stood up for yourself, and if you're good at what you do your colleagues will admire you more for that," advises Nzama.

The cry baby
Expressing your feelings is good, but when does it get too much? This toxic colleague takes everything personally, and cries every time she's told she's doing something wrong. She also brings her personal issues to work. If she had a fight with her boyfriend, we all have to listen to her moan and cry about it.

Expert opinion: Psychologist Brenda Otis-Steyn says: “It's good to express your feelings and crying every now and then can be good too; it can also make your colleagues feel like they are your friends when you're sharing your sorrows and allowing them to help you."

But, warns Otis-Steyn, overdoing it can really put people off. "Sometimes women cry a lot during pregnancy and their colleagues understand that the emotions may be a bit high during that time in a woman's life."

While some people are good at consoling upset colleagues, Otis-Steyn advises those who aren't, must distance themselves from the situation. "If you're not directly involved and do not want to be involved, just keep away from the crying colleague."

The bully
South African labour law states that abuse in the workplace is unlawful. So if you're being taunted with horrible names, emails, and are sometimes confronted or threatened by your colleagues, you can report it to your boss and your company's Human Resources Department.

"If the bullying has to do with your self-esteem, see a psychologist for some advice, or a life coach that will help you achieve better in your family and work life," says Liz Dooley of the Life and Family Centre.

"Being physically or emotionally bullied can be trying for any human being, so report it to your superiors as soon as you become aware of it."

The slacker
This colleague always procrastinates, and then makes you take the fall for the tasks she has not completed. Or, she just never pulls her weight but somehow manages to fool the boss.

Expert opinion: Nombuso says lies are common in some offices especially where there are no structures or systems to detect the glitches and mistakes. When in trouble, some people are tempted to lie about their colleagues to save their own skin. "As an HR practitioner, I sometimes get such complaints from employees who are not sure how to deal with this situation. You can either alert your boss or your HR department.

Don't be scared that you'll destroy your relationship with a colleague because, in my opinion, if they are telling lies about you; they don't care much about you," says HR specialist Nzama.

"Collect some evidence such as email correspondence, recorded phone calls (banks and call centres record telephone conversations), log books, and any other physical evidence."

Which toxic colleague bothers you most? Share, it helps to vent.

- True Love

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