The Most Toxic Types of People to Avoid at Work

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Businesswoman Being Gossiped About By Colleagues In Office
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By Robin Madell

Anyone who has ever worked in an office knows there's more to succeeding at your job than just doing the work itself. A big part of almost any position involves "relationship management" – in other words, knowing how to get along with different personality types.

But being a team player and navigating office politics can only take you so far. Even experienced employees can quickly feel like they're drowning in quicksand when working with toxic people. "When you are dealing with a toxic personality, it's like being close to an electric fence – it can be hazardous to your health," says Linda Swindling, author of "Stop Complainers and Energy Drainers: How to Negotiate Work Drama to Get More Done."While it's impossible to avoid all difficult people at work, learning to recognize common problematic personalities can be helpful, and in some cases, it can save your career. Once you know the type of person you're dealing with, it's easier to shift gears from "business as usual" relationship management to specific strategies that can minimize the damage such people can do to those around them when left unchecked in the office.

Here are telltale signs of three toxic types of people you may encounter in your company and how to deal with them most effectively:

Constant complainer. Negativity is draining and depressing, both for the person complaining and those around him or her. While there are certainly plenty of legitimate issues one might complain about at work, beware of people who seem perpetually dissatisfied and are constantly kvetching about issues at work that can't be changed.

While you may initially feel compelled to lend an ear, associating yourself too closely with this personality type can mark you as one of the same, according to New York-based clinical psychologist Michael Brustein.

"If you join in negative talk with the depressed complainer, other colleagues may notice your dissatisfaction and be repelled by you," he says. "If complaining continues, it won't be long before your supervisor or boss becomes aware, which could be drastic."

Instead of showing sympathy or chiming in, Brustein suggests trying to avoid constant complainers. "This often can be done simply by not complaining, since complaining is their major method of connecting and relating," he says. "If you cannot avoid them, be friendly and cordial, but keep the conversation light."

Boundaryless BFF. It's nice to have allies at work, and over time, some colleagues may consider themselves to be friends as well as co-workers. But when a peer or boss comes on too strong and quickly in the friendship department, see it as a red flag.

Certified etiquette instructor Callista Gould warns that when starting a job in a new workplace, the first person who wants to be your best friend may not be genuine. "Beware the office gossip who takes a personal interest in you," she says. "That person may be mining for information to be used against you."

Tara A. Goodfellow, managing director of Athena Educational Consultants, notes that the same type of "too close" personality can be seen in some supervisors who want to be pals with their direct reports, grabbing lunch every day and hanging out together after hours. "This has become more challenging with the oversharing of social media and more of a blended work philosophy," she says. "It can really strain the professional relationship over time."

To handle personalities who are too chummy at work, she recommends keeping your own boundaries strong by limiting the outside-of-work activities and including others in the plans, like by setting up a monthly full-team after-hours event.

Office bully. According to 2015 research by Connectria Hosting, more than half (55 percent) of all professionals surveyed have been bullied by a co-worker, and 65 percent say they have "dreaded" going to work because of a colleague.

While you may not recognize the signs of bullying in the office as easily as you do on the children's playground, bullying of adults is very prevalent and can damage a professional's esteem and performance quickly. The Workplace Bullying Institute describes bullying as "a systematic campaign of interpersonal destruction that jeopardizes your health, your career [and] the job you once loved." Common experiences include being constantly undermined in meetings and told your work isn't good enough no matter what you do, as well as being yelled at and ostracized by others.

WBI recommends a three-step target action plan to defend yourself against bullying. First, name this type of harassment for what it is – bullying or emotional abuse – rather than pretend it isn't happening. Second, take time off to recover from the effects of bullying before you launch your counterattack. Third, expose the bully to your employer using a business case based on the costs of bullying to the organization. This worksheet from WBI will help you determine these costs in language that speaks most loudly to employers.

"Unfortunately, co-workers and colleagues that could be hazardous don't come with a label," Brustein says. But knowing the personality types you're dealing with just may help you handle those in the "toxic" category before they hurt your career.
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