We all know that person at work. Maybe he was even your friend at one point, and it started simply enough. Complaining about the job. Everyone does it, but he kept on. And on. Soon he was doing it loudly and openly. And he wanted you to join in. How do you distance yourself from that toxic coworker before it affects your job? Here are a few insightful tips.
Cut back on time alone with him
Try not to be in a situation where you’re alone with this coworker. If you normally take trips to the break room together, change your routine. Go earlier than usual so you can politely decline to accompany him. Be busy with a project when he wanders over to your cubicle to talk. "Sorry - I can’t chat right now. I’ve got to get this done" should be a staple phrase in your vocabulary. At lunch, make sure you’re around other people so he can’t single you out. He may be unwilling to vent his frustrations in front of others, so there’s safety in numbers. You can maintain a friendly rapport but don’t put yourself in a situation where you’re his constant sounding board.
Make positive comments
Think of simple, positive things to say about your work and slip those, unsolicited, into conversations with him. Hearing positive comments from you often enough will make him realize you don’t share his bad opinion. And if you actually disagree with what he’s complaining about, don’t be afraid to speak up. You don’t have to start a conflict; just expressing your disagreement casually will help: "Oh, I don’t know, that doesn’t bother me at all..." If you consistently refuse to join in on the job bashing, he might look for a new audience.
Don’t be influenced by his bad attitude
If you can’t think of anything nice to say because you don’t particularly like your job either, you should still resist the urge to chime in with grievances of your own. Doing so would not only add fuel to his fire, but it could get you labelled as a complainer too. The last thing you want is for others to lump you in with someone who has a bad attitude, but sharing derogatory comments will do just that. Maintain a professional attitude and don’t get caught up in the "camaraderie" of making fun of the boss or complaining about the company. Keeping your mouth shut is important, though it’s not always the easiest thing to do. To help do it, you’ll need to...
...learn to nod and say "Hmm."
That may sound like the dumbest advice you’ve ever heard, but it can actually get you through conversations with this coworker. Hearing the same complaints over and over again can really wear you down, especially if you’ve run out of things to say in return. If you can’t avoid being around your toxic coworker and you have nothing positive left to comment on, try the passive response. When he’s ranting about his latest problem and looks to you for encouragement to go on, simply nod and give a non-committal "Hmm." Or shrug and say "I don’t know..." This can satisfy him that you’re at least listening without implicating you.
Don’t complain about the complainer
Reporting what your toxic coworker says to your boss or even commenting on his attitude to other coworkers will only make you look bad also. Unless his attitude is actually hindering your ability to work, keep your opinion of him to yourself. Your boss doesn’t need a tattletale, and you don’t want other coworkers to see you that way either. Do your best to remain neutral.
Whether you like your job or not, keeping your distance from a toxic coworker is essential to keeping your job. Loyalty to your coworkers doesn’t extend to joining in on their critical comments. Using these guidelines to deal with the situation will highlight your professionalism in contrast to his disparaging attitude.
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