5 Toxic Personalities in the Workplace (and How to Deal with Them)

We’ve all seen them – the problem employees, bosses, clients, or co-workers who somehow manage to poison our days with their behavior. Unless you work by yourself, it’s impossible to avoid them. If you let them, they can cause you unnecessary stress and even cost you clients and money.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at some of the most common toxic personality types and what you can do to defuse them.

The Drama Queen (or King)

Some people just seem to thrive on drama. If there isn’t any drama to be found, they will find a way to create some. A drama queen can be an exhausting presence in the workplace if you don’t know how to cope with their behavior.

The key to dealing with a drama queen is to refuse to participate in the drama. It really is true that the only behavior you can control is your own. A true drama queen needs an audience, and many of them prefer to have a catalyst, so they spend their time goading others into actions that they’d rather not take. The best defense is to set up a cue for yourself as a reminder that you don’t want to be a part of it, and then step away. The benefit of this approach is that over time, the drama queen may stop looking to you as a source of drama and move on to a new victim.

The Office Gossip

Every office has one person who seems to know everybody’s business, both work-related and personal. Not only that, but this person can’t resist spreading the word to everybody in sight. A new tidbit of information is like red meat to this person, who thrives on the attention they get as the purveyor of secrets.

The key to shutting down the office gossip is to take two important steps. First, never share any of your own information with the person in question. You may work with a troll but you don’t have to feed it. Second, do not participate in any office gossip yourself. If the blabbermouth comes to you with a juicy tidbit, shut them down with a polite, “I’m not interested.”

The Blame Shifter

Another common toxic personality in the workplace is the blame shifter – the person who flatly refuses to take responsibility for their actions and instead, points the finger at others for their own shortcomings. Most blame shifters use a variety of tactics to deflect attention from their mistakes. For example, they might deny that they’ve done anything wrong, try to turn the tables on you, or lapse into self-pity.

The thing to remember with most blame shifters is that they rarely have any justification for what they do. For that reason, the best way to shut them down is to stay calm and request proof of their claims. You can do it by asking pointed questions about what they did and didn’t do. It is also a good idea to bring in the person to whom the blame is being shifted so that there is no misunderstanding about what really happened.

The Control Freak

You might expect that the biggest control freaks in the office are the people with some degree of power, but that’s not always the case. A control freak can work at any level in an organization, and their lack of willingness to delegate or hear other opinions can cause real problems.

One of the quickest ways to defuse a control freak is to butter them up. That might go against the grain, but a lot of times control freaks are very passionate about what they do and acknowledging that fact might make them willing to listen to your ideas and opinions. If you start your comments with a simple, supportive statement such as, “I can see how much you care about this project,” it may mollify them and give you the “in” you need.

Another option is to ask questions about why the control freak wants things done in a certain way. Just make sure to be polite. You don’t want to get into an argument, but neither is it your responsibility to roll over and obey. Voice your opinion, but do what you can to validate the other person’s concerns. That’s the most likely path to a positive outcome.

The Critic

It’s impossible to do anything correctly when you work with a critic. This is the person who finds fault in everything. They may be arrogant or simply persnickety. Either way, they present a real challenge to people who are trying to do their jobs.

The first and most important thing you can do to cope with a critic is to make the decision not to give their criticism a place in your life. Author Brené Brown keeps a one-inch square of paper in her wallet with the names of the people whose opinions truly matter to her written on it. It’s a short list and it helps her keep perspective when she is at the receiving end of a bad review or harsh criticism.

In addition to putting the unwanted criticism in its proper place in terms of how you feel about it, there are two other tactics you can use to help deal with a critic. The first is to kill them with kindness. Often harsh criticism is born of low self-esteem. If a person is verbally abusive to you, you’re under no obligation to be nice. However, if you think that the person in question might be lashing out at others because of self-doubt, then being kind and complimentary might be just the ticket. If that doesn’t work, the final option is simply to avoid the critic altogether.

Dealing with toxic personalities in the workplace is a challenge we all have to face at some point in our lives. The key to coping is to understand what drives their behavior, and then to do what you can to modify your own behavior to defuse the toxicity and keep things on an even keel. You might not be able to avoid toxic personalities completely, but you do have the power to control your own reactions – and that’s the most important battle to win.

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