How to Handle a Toxic Work Environment

You may be setting yourself up for more — and worse — work problems if you don’t learn how to trust your intuition when you’re dealing with toxic coworkers. These five won’t miraculously make your job the happiest place on earth (even if you actually do work at Disneyland), but they can change your heart and mind.

“I’m not enjoying my work environment anymore because of my coworkers,” says Joe on What You Need to Know About Making a Career Change at 40. “My gut is telling me nothing will change unless I relent on certain issues, but I’m tired of dealing with toxic coworkers in this job. I want to change careers entirely, and get a counseling degree in Psychology. But I’m 41 and currently work at a company I’ve been with for almost 15 years. On the other hand I want to help others with additions, substance abuse, and other problems. My instincts and the toxic coworkers are telling me it’s time to switch careers, but I’m nervous. Should I trust my intuition and make a career change now? I won’t be working in a counseling job until I’m at least 45.”

Here’s my free advice – and remember that you get what you pay for! Yes, if your intuition is telling you that the best way to deal with a toxic work environment is to quit, then do it. Yes, Joe should trust his intuition, go back to school, and change careers. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’ll cost time, money, and energy.

Will he regret quitting his job? I don’t know, and neither does he. But we all know that Joe will definitely regret staying and working in a toxic environment! So what does he have to lose, really? If he stays in a job with toxic coworkers — and his intuition is telling him to leave — he’ll regret that decision. At least if he takes a leap of faith, he’ll find out what happens next.

5 Ways to Deal With Toxic Coworkers

“Sometimes you have to scream and yell, because this is the only way you can be heard,” writes Lillian Glass in Toxic People: 10 Ways Of Dealing With People Who Make Your Life Miserable. She does not recommend regular use of this technique for dealing with toxic people at – it’s actually a sign of an unhealthy person! But sometimes coping with toxic people requires fighting fire with fire. The trick is to control your angry, frustrated, and hurt feelings. Carefully decide how you will respond – including when, where, and why.

Instead of immediately resorting to screaming and yelling, take a page from Joe’s book. Trust your intuition! Other words for intuition: hunch, instinct, or feeling. I feel my intuition telling me how to deal with toxic or difficult situations. The more in touch with your feelings, the better you can trust your intuition to tell you what to do — even if you’re dealing with toxic people at work.

5 Tips for Dealing With Toxic Coworkers
How to Handle a Toxic Work Environment

Fortunately, you can learn how to trust your intuition when you’re dealing with difficult coworkers. But you might not like the results, because your intuition will force you to make changes. And change is hard.

How do you know if your coworkers are toxic or just unhappy? Read 12 Signs of a Toxic Person.

1. Get still and quiet

How can you trust your intuition at work if you can’t hear what it says? You can’t. My reader Joe knows he needs to quit his job and go back to school. He knows his gut instincts are telling him to leave his workplace. What more does he need? Not even a guarantee of success would convince him, because change is hard. So, trusting your intuition first involves listening to it in silence and with an open heart and mind. Then learning how to trust your intuition means taking responsibility for what you hear — even if it involves dealing with toxic coworkers in difficult ways.

If your intuition is telling you that it’s better to flee your toxic coworkers rather than stay and try to fix the problems, read How to Make a Difficult Decision. And, remember that your intuition’s job isn’t to give you easy answers or make life perfect. It’s to guide you into the best, most right, and most fulfilling decisions for you. Get ready to shake things up. And, let go of the idea that dealing with toxic coworkers is about them. It’s not. It’s about you.

2. Expect your coworkers to be difficult

This tip isn’t about trusting your intuition when dealing with a toxic work environment; it’s about expecting your colleagues to cause you pain, hardship, and suffering. They’re human, and they’re dealing with all sorts of problems you know nothing about! Or, maybe you know more than you ever wanted to know. Maybe that’s the source of the toxic problems at work: you know stuff about your coworkers that their mothers don’t even know.

Your expectations — like your heart — change everything. What are you expecting from your coworkers? How are they not measuring up? Where, when, and why are they letting you down? Maybe your expectations need to change, because you’re expecting too much. If you’re dealing with toxic coworkers who are ruining your work day, maybe you don’t need to learn how to trust your intuition. You need to change your expectations, and lower the bar. They can’t be the coworkers you want them to be.

3. Focus on the big picture

Zoom out of your work environment, and tell me what you see. Are your toxic coworkers part of your daily schedule, weekly routine, or minute-by-minute contact? Do you need to be in close proximity to do your job? Even more importantly…does their attitude or performance affect how you complete your tasks at work?

If you were to describe the big picture to me, what words would you use? Take time to write down what you see, hear, feel, smell, think, and know. Then, go a little deeper into your intuition and look your overall work experience. What is your intuition or gut instinct telling you about dealing with your toxic coworkers? Should you retreat, for example, or confront? What is your gut telling you? If you write all this down, you will write yourself into more clarity, wisdom, and insight.

4. Consider your work identity

Your identity is the name you know yourself by, names are powerful. What are your “work labels”? Are you the sweet coworker, the nice boss, the smart receptionist, the tough teacher? Maybe you’re the difficult coworker; maybe you’re ignoring the intuitive voice telling you that you’re the problem at work.

How you label yourself directly affects your thoughts, attitudes, choices, friends, and even your health. Consider how your identities not only affect your behavior, but your ability to deal with toxic coworkers. Are you stuck because you can’t let go of an old identity at work? The first step to is become aware of your identities and how they affect your relationships with coworkers.

5. Create a plan for dealing with toxic coworkers

What has your intuition told you about working in a difficult environment? Don’t worry about trusting your gut instincts anymore. Now is the time to actually write down how you will deal with toxic people at work. Your intuition has already told you what you need to know…now, give your brain a chance to respond.

It’s time to consider specific ideas and strategies for dealing with toxic coworkers. Brainstorm 50 (yes!) different possibilities. Make them foolish or unbelievable — such as they all quit and you’re suddenly in charge of hiring an entirely new staff of employees. Make them boring and adult — such as talking to a Human Resources supervisor and getting help. Make them creative and interesting — such as a spaceship that comes rescues you from having to learn how to trust your intuition when you’re dealing with toxic coworkers.

If you’re think you’d rather not have any coworkers at all, read Best Jobs for Introverts and People Who Like to Be Alone.

Tell me, what scares you most about learning how to trust your intuition when you’re dealing with difficult coworkers? What are you not willing to do, change, or create in your job?


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1 thought on “How to Handle a Toxic Work Environment”

  1. Beth Ann Patricelli

    Thank you for your article.

    I went from working at a job for 30 years – – the director I knew for 30 years became very abusive. Telling me I reminded her of someone she went to high school with that she never liked, while in the elevator she grabbed my bag off my arm and shoved me because she incorrectly thought my laptop was in an unsecured carrying bag (it was a paper tablet in a puffy binder, not a computer), gave me her company car she wrecked and didn’t tell me then verbally abused me when she heard about me taking it to the shop for a check up before taking it on the road….could go on, but I won’t.

    Thankful she was horrible enough to get me to leave the job and work at a hospice for a director I respect. Going on 4 years and love the fact that it is possible to be kind and give back to the community and co-workers.

    Take care.