How to Deal with a Toxic Remote Coworker
Many people fall into the trap of thinking that working remotely means working alone. But that’s hardly ever the case. While you might not be one desk over from your team members, you still need to communicate and collaborate effectively—and that becomes all the more challenging when you’re dealing with a toxic coworker.
What can you do when one of your colleagues is dragging you down? When you’re unable to have an in-person conversation, what’s the best way to address that behavior? Perhaps even more importantly, should you even handle the behavior in the first place?
Toxic Coworker Behaviors
Are you trying to determine if the behavior is simply a personality conflict? We’ve all had them, and it’s normal to have coworkers you wouldn’t necessarily want to spend your free afternoons with. Different perspectives and personalities help ensure teams are well-rounded. However, a toxic coworker is more than someone who doesn’t get your jokes. So, how do you differentiate?
When determining if you’re being too sensitive, consider how you feel after interacting with someone you suspect is a toxic coworker. Are you constantly down afterward, feeling negative, hate your job, or drained of energy? Do they disrespect your input, make more insulting jokes than funny ones, and continually make it harder to complete your assignments?
If you answered “yes,” you might have a coworker creating a toxic work environment. Take some time to analyze precisely why and how they’re sabotaging your work, as that will determine how you’ll deal with them.
1.Stealing Credit for Your Work
This person has no problem slapping their name on your work. Even when it’s apparent that you carried the load for a specific task or project, they gladly soak in every last bit of praise that’s unjustifiably offered to them.
Don’t: Roll over and let that behavior slide. It can feel uncomfortable and braggy to call out your contributions and accomplishments, but remember that receiving the credit for the work you complete isn’t a benefit or a perk—it’s something you’re entitled to.
Do: Assert yourself. Working remotely frequently means you’re out of sight and out of mind, which makes it that much more important to shine a spotlight on the excellent work you’re doing.
For example, if your colleague begins taking ownership of your portion of a project in a team meeting during the next team call, gather your courage and chime in with your own two cents on the pieces you managed. Consider mentioning something like, “When I was contacting vendors for the event, I found that they were concerned about the marketing.”
If the behavior continues, it’s probably time to talk with your coworker one-on-one about how you feel they have a habit of claiming credit for your work. If things still don’t improve following that confrontation, it’s time to approach your boss and express your concerns.
Admittedly, this might feel awkward at first. But remember, if you don’t advocate for yourself, nobody will. And if you allow them to steal all the credit, you’re sabotaging your own professional growth plans and opportunities.
2.Continually Putting You Down
Now and then, you have the unfortunate luck of landing a coworker who insists on putting you down. You can barely get a word in before they shoot down your ideas, and they’re constantly issuing backhanded compliments that inspire a hefty amount of self-doubt.
One of the intricacies revolving around remote work is that mannerisms and communication can be misconstrued when not face-to-face. Perhaps they don’t understand how aggressive they’re perceived.
Don’t: Retaliate with insults. In these sorts of circumstances, it’s tempting to fight fire with fire or to give in to the temptation of being passive-aggressive. But mirroring your colleague’s inappropriate behavior won’t do you any favors.
Do: Ask questions. Most of us are inclined to either retreat or be super aggressive when faced with disapproval or rudeness. However, the best reaction you can have is to ask clarifying questions.
When that teammate immediately rejects one of your suggestions, ask thoughtful questions about what they didn’t like about it. If they tear your project down, ask what they think could’ve been improved.
This will engage that colleague in (hopefully) a more productive conversation where you can determine whether they have valid concerns or simply enjoy knocking you down a few pegs. If they fall into that latter camp, it’ll be much more difficult for them to continue bullying you if you always remain levelheaded and never take the bait.
Consider approaching your manager about a team training for conference call etiquette, and speak with HR about having a representative facilitate it.
- Creating Dysfunctional Office Politics
There’s not a single secret or rumor that this colleague hasn’t blabbed. You’ve not only learned that you shouldn’t confide in this person, but also that you can’t place any weight in the things they report—almost all of it is exaggerated or falsified.
Don’t: Be a willing participant. Office gossip is all too easy to get wrapped up in, but you’re better off staying as far away from it as possible.
Do: Shut it down and then change the subject. Let’s give that teammate of yours the benefit of the doubt. Working remotely can be isolating, so perhaps they turn to gossip as a way of connecting with their colleagues.
That doesn’t mean you should humor them, but know there’s a way you can redirect the conversation without seeming overly harsh or rude. The next time they attempt to engage you with any hearsay, state, “That’s none of my business, so I’d rather not talk about it.” Then, to smooth things over, immediately change the subject to focus on something related to that coworker, like, “Hey, how was your recent vacation?” or “How’s marathon training going?”
That still gives your colleague a chance to chitchat and connect with you on a more personal level—without you needing to be dragged into any scandalous conversation.
- Perpetually Hating Their Job
Everybody on your team recognizes how much negative energy this colleague brings to the table, virtual or not. The Zoom meeting is too long. Their remote day is too busy. The workload is too draining. It’s raining. They skipped lunch. Their head hurts. You can count the number of positive things this coworker has said on one hand—maybe even one finger.
Don’t: Allow your mood to be tanked. It’s amazing how other people’s perspectives can alter our attitudes. Do your best to maintain a positive outlook and resist being dragged down by a toxic coworker.
Do: Balance that energy. Life can get busy and stressful, which means your coworker might not even realize how negative they’re being regularly.
The next time they chime in with a complaint, match it with your own positive remark. Suppose they complain that the meeting is too long? Respond by stating that at least you’ll be able to get a lot accomplished. If they whine about how busy they are, respond that having so many people trust them with tasks must mean they’re great at what they do. Consider empathizing and sharing a new task management system that’s helped you handle the workload.
Hopefully, after only a few times of drawing their attention to the positives, your coworker will start to recognize the negative patterns in their behavior—and change them!
- Toxic Coworkers Aren’t Limited to the Office
Working remotely doesn’t mean you’re immune to toxic coworkers. While you might not need to share a desk, they can still significantly impact your passion for your work. Fortunately, you don’t have to accept that toxicity. Put the above do’s into play (and avoid the don’ts!), and coping with that colleague can be much easier.
If you’ve realized that it’s actually your work environment and not a single coworker that’s toxic, it might be time to start considering a new job. And StartWorkNow can help! Take the tour to learn how!