8 Tips for Dealing with Toxic Work Relationships

Oxford Dictionaries announced this week that its word of the year is “toxic,” indicating the term best captures 2018’s “ethos, mood, or preoccupations” and has “lasting potential as a term of cultural significance.” Oxford also noted that the word was far more likely to refer to a toxic work environment than physically poisonous substances like toxic gas.

toxic work

From increasingly demanding workloads to sexual harassment and protests, the news exposed companies that enabled toxic work culture throughout 2018. Given that almost all of us has dealt with a toxic work environment, the only surprising part about the word-of-the-year selection is that Oxford didn’t choose it sooner.

Toxic workplaces lead to toxic relationships outside the office and can even damage your health. And, Oxford suggests that these dysfunctional dynamics aren’t disappearing from our culture anytime soon. Consequently, it’s critical to learn how to handle workplace toxicity to minimize its impact on you.

8 Tips for Managing Toxic Work Relationships

The Workplace Bullying Institute indicates that 27 percent of workers report they have been bullied at work. And, 72 percent of the workforce are aware of it happening. So, how can you stand your ground, while protecting your career and mental well-being?

Here’s how to handle toxic work relationships effectively:

  1. Speak up. Don’t give in to bullying. Silence equates acquiescence to unacceptable behavior. Vocalize when a coworker is behaving in an inappropriate manner. Firmly communicate in a polite and calms way that you will not accept abuse. This can undermine the person’s comfort level with aggression.
  2. Establish boundaries. Whether your bully is a coworker or your boss, you need to establish healthy boundaries through assertive communication. Again, it’s important to remain polite yet firm to set workplace expectations and what types of behavior you will accept.
  3. Confront. This is the last thing that most people being bullied want to do. But, it’s also one of the first things you should do. Your workplace aggressor may be acting out of some perceived slight. So, have an open and calm conversation to deal with any misunderstandings and try to understand where this person is coming from. Sometimes the bully isn’t even aware of the inappropriateness of the toxic work behavior.
  4. Document everything. Document bullying behavior. Make sure you stick to the facts, cite specific instances and include witness accounts if possible. Also, make sure to follow-up with the powers that be if the bullying continues.
  5. Talk to management. Its critical to ensure that management is aware of the issue even if communicating with your manager is uncomfortable. Remember to stay neutral and stick to the facts. If your boss is the bully, take the issue to human resources.
  6. Build a support network. If your boss is the toxic work element, connect with as many people as possible and across different departments to build a strong network to prevent negative labeling.
  7. Avoid counter-gossip. It’s tempting to fight fire with fire and to retaliate against vicious gossip. Instead, take the high road and avoid this person. Focus on building positive relationships with others to contain the toxic spread of rumors.
  8. Upskill. Rather than focusing on the toxic work environment, work on self-improvement. Volunteer for projects that aren’t necessarily in your wheel house and seize opportunities to learn new skills so that you can continue building your resume and skillset.

Being able to build and nurture positive work relationships is imperative to success. If management ignores or contributes to the toxic work environment, it may be time to start considering other professional options. Toxic work relationships can destroy productivity and collaboration in the office and poison your relationships outside of the office as well. Consequently, it is critical to start detoxifying your workplace as soon as possible to help restore a healthy work-life balance.

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