How to Recognize and Cope with Toxicity

Toxic people make life more difficult than it should be. Whenever possible, for your own good, cutting ties with them is the best thing to do. However, it isn’t always possible, especially when you have to deal with them at work. But there are ways you can handle them professionally and effectively so you won’t get mentally and emotionally drained by their toxicity. 

If you’re leading a team at work, you better not let one bad apple spoil the bunch. One toxic worker can poison a company’s culture. Research has shown that one member’s bad or good mood can affect the entire team’s mood significantly.

According to a study by Harvard Business, the cost of incivility can run into millions, and here are some of their specific findings:

  • Nearly 50 percent of employees decreased work effort and “intentionally” spent less time at work because of incivility.
  • Those who are subjected to incivility experienced markedly loosened bonds with their professional life.
  • 25 percent of workers who were subjected to incivility admitted to taking their frustrations out on customers.
  • 38 percent “intentionally” decreased their work quality.
  • 12 percent quit their jobs because they were treated badly.

You should know how to smartly deal with toxic people at the workplace before they cause bigger problems and cost more money. 

Signs Of Toxic People In The Workplace And Smart Ways To Deal With Them

Toxic people in the workplace come in many forms but usually they are:


Yes, we sometimes get it wrong, but toxic people will make sure you are aware of it. They’ll make you feel less about yourself because of your mistakes not only at work but also with your personal life. They’ll throw in unsolicited advice or ask inappropriate personal questions that could make you feel uncomfortable. We all make mistakes and unless what we did affect them no one has the right to judge you as a person because of a mistake. You should not worry about being yourself at the workplace. 

What to do:

Set clear boundaries. Let that person know if what they’re saying or asking makes you feel uncomfortable, if not disrespected. Teach that person how you want to be treated but do it tactfully.


A toxic person takes pleasure from other people’s misfortunes and likes to air out other people’s dirty laundry. We all can be a little bit too curious on someone else’s personal or professional faux pas at some point. But over time, being with a person who gossips all the time, is draining, gross, and gossiping hurts other people. Nothing good comes out of talking about the misfortunes of others. If they usually speak poorly of other people behind their backs, chances are they are doing the same thing to you.

What to do:

The office gossiper is typically outgoing and friendly, so you may not easily recognize how toxic they can be until you are caught up in their drama. Keep your conversations with this person friendly, but short and sweet. Give a good excuse, or change the subject when that person starts to gossip. 

Sympathetic In Times Of Crisis But Never Share Your Joy

Count on them to be the one who’ll first reach out to you to learn more about your misfortune. But when good news comes your way, don’t expect them to celebrate with you. They’ll find reasons to make your good news not so great after all. You get a promotion. Instead of congratulating you, they’ll say the pay should be higher for the amount of work required for the position. 

What to do:

Respond to this person’s negativity with as much positivity as you can, without starting an argument. If that person continues to drag you into the mud, excuse yourself. It isn’t worth your time and energy.

Extremely Competitive

These people’s obsession of proving themselves the best in everything may lead to belittling other people, bragging, or even manipulating others in the workplace. A supposedly just for fun activity can be spoiled by a highly-competitive worker who wants to be number 1 no matter what.

What to do:

Striving to be the best is a good thing, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of others. Ultra-competitive people usually are battling personal insecurities hence their need for validation. It is hard not to get annoyed with people who are extremely competitive but it doesn’t hurt to practice a caring culture in the workplace where you seek to understand instead of reacting negatively. Focus on yourself. Do not play this person’s game.


These are toxic people who use their position at work or intimidating personality to get what they want. They are overly aggressive with their coworkers and caused decreased productivity, increased turnover, reputation damage, and legal costs.

Office bullies may also lie, bend the truth, exaggerate, or leave certain information out so that you act in a certain way or perceive them in a certain way. It could be a boss who undermines an employee’s confidence by openly criticizing them or alleging that there are complaints against the employee when there is no evidence. This is an example of gaslighting, which is a subtle form of bullying in the workplace. 

What to do:

Stay calm and do not engage in an argument. If you can minimize interaction with them, do it. If the office bully did something really hurtful or inappropriate, HR should be involved. Everyone in the workplace should expect and have the right to work in a safe environment without feeling threatened, attacked, physically, mentally, emotionally, or otherwise. 

It can extremely be difficult if your boss is the one who is bullying and/or gaslighting you. Seek advice from people whom you trust. Assess if the situation requires HR to be involved. 

The Bottom Line

Toxic people can be found everywhere, and the workplace is no exception. Four out of 5 employees have indicated in a survey that they have worked with someone that can be considered toxic. Toxic people can bring a lot of negativity in the workplace, causing stress and mental drain to other employees. 

Remember not to respond to triggers. Try to engage in a dialogue with the person in order to understand what is really bothering them or causing them to act that way. This is especially important when you are dealing with toxic people you are managing. There is always a reason why people do what they do. Knowing the real reason for their behavior will help you determine the best way to address it.

Ultimately, you cannot change people’s behavior, but you can choose how to respond and deal with conflict caused by toxic people at work. And remember, knowing how to deal with difficult people at work effectively will help you grow professionally and make you a better leader.

In love and respect,

Hilary Corna
To join our UNprofessional community, be our friend on IG at WeareUNprofessional or on Twitter at UNprofessional. Download the new podcast on Apple podcasts.


Hilary Corna

Bestselling Author, Keynote Speaker, Podcast Host, Founder of the Human Way ™...

Hilary’s favorite title is HUMAN.


I am starting a revolution. One business and one person at a time.



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