How to spot toxic co-workers and how to handle them

Image @Notoriousmag

You found your dream job, it is fulfilling, fun and exciting, but somehow you dread going to the office because of that one person who makes you and everyone else miserable? Before you start thinking of quitting your job, know that there are ways to spot toxic co-workers and handle them.

According to Harvard Business School’s definition, a toxic co-worker is someone whose behaviour is harmful to the organisation’s people and property, making the company lose money, clients and upset employees who decide to leave.

To help you spot difficult colleagues and know how to deal with them, here are the main signs your co-worker is toxic:

The Gossiper

How to spot them

Your colleague loves to share anything he or she heard about other people in the office, especially when it is something negative? Well, be careful. A toxic co-worker will share opinions about others, rumours or even a mistake somebody did, in order to look better by making the others look bad.

How to handle them

Gossips are fun, I know, but because we must strive to become better persons, not only at work but also in our personal lives, we must resist the urge to listen to who is doing what to whom, it is none of our business. If your toxic co-worker comes up why a “You don’t know what I’ve just heard about Mary” kind of line, be smart and stop the conversation right there. Interrupt, say something kind about the person who was about to be trashed out by your toxic colleague, change the topic and focus on work. You know what they say; if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

And if you happen to have a problem with someone, don’t become the gossiper, go talk to the person directly and privately.

The Selfish

How to spot them

Your colleague clearly takes advantage of others, taking the credit for someone else’s ideas or job? A toxic person is usually selfish and doesn’t care about the feelings of others, thinking that her time and her needs are far more critical than her co-workers’.

How to handle them

A smile and kindness are the best weapons against selfishness. And by that, I’m not saying you should accept the toxic co-worker’s selfish behaviour. Let him and the others know that you are aware of it, but do it with kindness, for example, by praising the excellent work of that colleague who was taken advantage of, or showing your appreciation to the co-worker who fixed any problem the toxic person caused. Empathy is contagious, and soon the office morale will become much higher.

The judge

How to spot them

Your colleague doesn’t miss one opportunity to let people know that he “knows better” than everyone how to do their jobs? Like the gossiper, the judge likes to feel superior to others by finding any little mistake and making people feel bad about themselves. Their judgement usually comes with an eye-roll and a comment like “I would have done it differently”, meaning “better”, of course!

How to handle them

Judgmental people are only showing their fear of not being good enough. When your co-worker points out the typo you made or go against your idea saying that he has a better one, do not get upset. Make a joke about your terrible typing skills and go back to your presentation, or engage the toxic co-worker asking him to help you with his idea. You should do this kindly, of course, never forgetting to smile. This way, you will show everyone, including the toxic co-worker, that his negative judgments do not affect you, and you will put him in a position where he will be obliged to help or keep his judgement to himself. Who knows, maybe the judge will feel happier judging less and helping more! Doing good is one of the best feelings a person can have; even your toxic co-worker will enjoy this happiness-booster and may want to change.


By Selma

I am the editor-in-chief of and co-founder of I have also been working as creative director at, a marketing agency headquartered in Vienna, Austria, with offices in Hamburg, Germany, and Madrid, Spain.