5 Ways for Leaders to Deal With Toxic Colleagues

They really can get the best of us when we face them daily. They know just what to do to frustrate us and are so able to challenge any suggestion we make. Just seeing them across a conference table can set off warning lights in our heads that force us to back down or even surrender. It’s exhausting and de-energizing to be assigned to the same project with them. We hope we are never stuck in an elevator by ourselves with these people as they will surely throw us into a panic attack. Who are we talking about?

Toxic colleagues.

Do any of these remarks sound familiar?

“My co-worker has a nasty habit of over talking me whenever I speak up at our team meetings.”

“My counterpart in another department keeps me out of the loop by not sharing all the necessary information. Makes me nuts!”

“I am working with this person on a tight deadline. He is constantly rewriting whatever I present. He can’t accept any of my work.”

I have heard all these comments in my leadership programs with anger and confusion. On one hand, we are upset that we have to exist in a work environment with toxic colleagues , and on the other hand we allow them to ruin our job situations and do nothing to stop it.

To lead with influence from whatever position we are in, we need to deal with toxic colleagues with these five methods:


We may not want to admit it, but if we have a co-worker who constantly puts us down or consistently criticizes our work, we are dealing with a toxic colleague . These team members may be jealous of our abilities and as a result take any opportunity to take credit away from us. They will do anything to cast us in a bad light in order to make themselves feel better.


Here is a crazy secret about a toxic colleague we allow them to have power over us . How nuts is that? We actually give them permission to carry out inappropriate behavior when we don’t shut them down. To lead more effectively when we are confronted with toxic people:

  • Challenge their assumptions with facts
  • Be clear on your perspectives and explain why
  • Stand up for yourself

    Leaders know that respect can help turn around a difficult relationship. Ask yourself if there are ways to work around the abrasive toxic personality and cultivate civility . Say hello and ask the person how their day is going. Ask for input from them and express appreciation. Little steps of kindness may help you create a civil connection. Not perfect, perhaps, but manageable.

    Lead with civility when working with toxic colleagues.


    The best way to speak with toxic colleagues is using assertive communication . That means expressing our needs and wants in a clear and direct way while still being respectful.

  • Begin your statements by using the word “I” to show ownership of your thoughts, rather than the accusatory “You”
  • Express your true feelings and how their actions affect you and your work
  • Stay calm
  • Use non-judgmental language
  • Don’t make assumptions
  • When dealing with toxic colleagues leaders need to stay calm while communicating assertively.


    No matter what, we cannot allow toxic colleagues to compromise our self-worth. We cannot give in to their negativity or critical nature. We must trust our inner voices that we are strong, offer value to our teams and care about the people we see each day. We can lead with courage and compassion.

    How have you dealt with a toxic colleague? What tips can you share?