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How to Handle a Toxic Coworker

We've all had coworkers who we don't consider besties. Every workplace has at least one or two pairs or teams who manage to make it through the day together, but who just can't seem to find common ground on a personal level. And of course, there are always coworkers who don't see the world the way we do, who eat smelly lunches, who tell off-putting jokes, or who make judgmental remarks about our wardrobe choices.

These little conflicts are just part of life in the working world, and learning to get along and share the road with others will always be one of the challenges of adult life. But what happens when a simple personality mismatch becomes a serious problem? If you have a coworker who you can't trust, who seems determined to undermine you, or who seems to be getting into your head in a genuinely toxic way, try these moves before you lose your cool (or start looking for another job).

  1. Get to the heart of the problem. While you're being driven around the bend, try to look past the two hundred things that are wrong with your coworker and find the one problem that lies at the root of all the others. If he seems bent on stealing credit for your ideas, plagiarizing your work, or badmouthing you behind your back, recognize the simple truth: You're afraid of the harm he might do to your reputation and your prospects. Once you admit this fear, you can focus on the real issue: Protecting yourself.
  2. Stop psychoanalyzing. If someone is set on bringing you down, you don't really need to know all the reasons why. Maybe he's afraid of you. Maybe he's facing family or medical difficulties you know nothing about. Maybe he's jealous of your success. If you know there's no hope for a friendship, don't worry about the "why" behind his bad behavior. Just find ways to sidestep this behavior so it can't hurt you. Focus on his actions, and don't get too invested in the motivation behind them.
  3. Be direct. This is far easier said than done, since most of us (for good reason) work very hard to avoid—not stir up—interpersonal conflict. If all disagreement could resolved by simply sitting down with our counterparts and addressing our issues head on, everyone would get along, marriages would last forever, and war would be a thing of the past. That may never happen, but you owe it to yourself to try as hard as you possibly can to be direct, bold, and honest with the person about what's bothering you.
  4. Be practical. If you know that something about your motivations, your job, your own behavior, or your position in the hierarchy are troubling or threatening to your coworker, admit this. If each of you can only succeed at a cost to the other, recognize that—at least on some level—your conflict isn't personal. It's just business.
  5. Be fair. Within the bounds of reason, if there's anything you can do or change about yourself that might make coexistence a little easier for both of you, keep that option on the table. Don't let stubbornness or pride cause you to stick with courses of action you know are unwise.

When All Else Fails, Know Your Alternatives

When you've exhausted every option and you know this workplace just isn't big enough for the two of you, there's no need to let this unsolvable conflict ruin your career or your peace of mind. Maintain your perspective. And when it's time to look for new work, launch your search with a polished, effective resume. Visit MyPerfectResume for a resume builder that makes it easy to get a new job offer and start afresh.

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