Photo Credit: Andrew Neel,
Photo Credit: Andrew Neel,

Did you know that there are large groups of workers described as “actively disengaged” in the workplace? These are people who are not just bored or spacing out at work, they’re actively causing problems…think: saboteurs!

They do things intended to disrupt, limit, and even prevent their workplaces from, well, working.

As I read more about them, I realize that these were also the “toxic” people at the office that so many people contact me about.

These are the negative, gossipy, persistently annoyed, or outright combative people who (knowingly or not) pull down everyone around them. Rather than focusing on the job, they focus on everything they see wrong with the workplace, the management, the industry, the lighting– you name it.

They make you dread going to work– or at least dread interacting with them– and it can cause serious harm to your performance. This is no joke; these people cause unhealthy stresses, and as one Forbes writer said,

“Studies have long shown that stress can have a lasting, negative impact on the brain. Exposure to even a few days of stress compromises the effectiveness of neurons in the hippocampus—an important brain area responsible for reasoning and memory… months of stress can permanently destroy neurons.”

In other words, toxic people cause you stress, and that stress actually threatens your success.

When someone asks me, “How do I deal with so and so…?” my immediate response is don’t. Don’t deal with them.

This usually causes my listener to pause and then hesitatingly say something along the lines of, “Like, what? Ignore them?”

“No,” I usually say with a strong shake of my head, “Stop giving them so much of your personal power.”

There’s an old saying about how we cannot control much of anything, but we can control how we react to it. The number one, most effective rule I can give to you is to stop giving them room in your head! They want your emotional “knee jerk”, and no matter what you say, do, or think, they’ll continue along their toxic path.

Don’t follow. Don’t even watch.

Distancing yourself emotionally (first) and then physically (second) is the best thing you can do to begin dealing more effectively with toxic folks in the office.

Shared workspaces make it tough to obtain a lot of space, but my favorite advice is to create a positive space around yourself with like-minded colleagues.

Spend time around constructive people at work. Eat lunch with them. Check in with them on breaks. If this is challenging, then move to the mental space– i.e. reframing negative thoughts consciously into positive ones, counteracting any of that toxic person’s comments or actions. When you do, you’re creating barriers that distance you from the negative nonsense.

You can’t control much in the world, but you can control how you react to the toxic people around you.