How To Spot Toxic Coworkers — & Effectively Steer Clear Of Them

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
By Amy Wolf
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At work, everyone hopes to be part of a collaborative team where they can learn from one another and make an impact. Whether you’re just starting your career or have many years of experience, you’re going to come across people that will inspire you, challenge you, and empower you. But, unfortunately, you’ll also come across people that you want to keep at an arm’s length. Below are some tips on how to spot toxic coworkers:
Keep an eye out for someone who’s more concerned about standing out among others in the workplace, rather than the success of the team at large. While a little in-office competition can stimulate growth, it’s better to be surrounded by those who are focused on working together to accomplish each task at hand. Collaboration is meant to highlight each person’s strengths, while fostering unity in the group. However, a project or assignment can quickly turn toxic if someone on the team purposely tries to outshine other members.
An overly competitive person may also try to keep tabs on others in the group. Knowing what everyone else is working on allows the bad egg to deploy their snake-like tactics (i.e. rushing to complete the task first, or purposely giving negative feedback about an individual’s work).
A strong indicator of a person like this is someone who takes credit for other’s work.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
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Watch out for an opportunist. This is a person who uses people if they think they’ll benefit from in some way. I’m not talking in a “mentor-mentee” type of way, but rather a “take advantage of you” type of way. For instance, this person may ask for your point of view on a subject and then use it to blackball you down the road in order for them to get ahead.
An opportunist often asks others for favors, but rarely returns them.
At times this person may come across as helpful, but it’s usually a camouflage for a sly move. For instance, they notice you’re swamped with work and so they offer to take a task off your plate, but once you propose an assignment you could use help with, they scold you for not prioritizing your time better.
Steer clear of those who “talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk.” This is someone who comes off as a knowledgeable employee, but when it comes to actually doing the work they can’t/don’t follow through. This person often delegates their work to others (but still takes credit for the assignments–see above), or they add in a lot of “fluff” to mask the shortcomings in their work.
While it’s hard not to let bad eggs bring down your morale at work, it’s important that you stay true to yourself and not stoop to their level. Work culture is extremely important, so focus on building strong work relationships with those who will help you grow, and avoid individuals who add a negative vibe to the workspace.
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