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Here is how you can handle that toxic colleague

A new book offering techniques for dealing with every kind of toxic colleague and building personal resilience is a mix of the good and the exhausting.

Even people with the best soft skills will run into someone with whom they cannot work (Unsplash)

By Shalini Umachandran

LAST PUBLISHED 06.12.2022  |  11:24 AM IST

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At some point in our lives, we’ve all had a colleague who makes us question whether the job is worth the stress of dealing with “that person". They might be harmless but exhausting pessimists, or downright malicious and insecure—but their effect on us is more or less the same. We dread conversations with them, the heart plummets when their name flashes on the phone, they sap our energy and creativity. In Getting Along: How To Work With Anyone (Even Difficult People), workplace expert Amy Gallo has techniques for dealing with every kind of toxic colleague, and building personal resilience.

We spend a large part of our lives at work—and Indians are known to spend more time in the office than most others—making relationships with colleagues not just crucial but also a support system akin to family. Workplace relationships can carry the same kind of emotional baggage as those outside the office. Managing these relationships not only has an impact on mental and physical well-being but also influences relationships at home.

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Gallo categorises difficult co-workers into eight types—and, if your work-life has been as long and colourful as mine, it’s highly likely you’ve worked with one or more of these types or worse, a person who is a combination of all these painful personality types—and provides strategies to deal with, and prevail over, each. She groups them as the insecure manager, the pessimist, the victim, the passive-aggressive peer, the know-it-all, the tormentor, the biased co-worker, and the political operator—and provides a helpful table at the end listing their common behaviours if you just want to skip straight to the chapter that concerns your particular problem.

Gallo shares her own experiences, good and bad, pointing out that even people with the best soft skills will run into someone with whom they cannot work. Much of her advice is backed by behavioural science and organisational psychology. She explains that our own beliefs, ideas and values influence the way we interact with colleagues. It’s sobering to realise that each of us most likely exhibits these behaviours, and is probably the cause of someone else’s sense of foreboding. Her notes on recognising triggers and learning to understand why one might feel dislike for a colleague are useful.

Gallo does have pointers for when you’ve persisted and tried all her techniques to no avail

Too often, though, Gallo counsels “collaboration over retaliation", “accepting the situation", flexibility, and approaching things from the other person’s point of view. It’s a tone that reminds one, a shade too much, of Indian Matchmaking’s Sima Aunty saying, “Adjust a little, then life becomes beautiful and smooth."

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Gallo does have pointers for when you’ve persisted and tried all her techniques to no avail, and to manage your own mental health. But then again, her advice is “establishing boundaries", “limiting time" with the person and “maintaining emotional distance", which, as we all know, isn’t always possible. She does, however, provide helpful hints—though she races through them too quickly—to document transgressions and escalate issues without looking like you’re complaining. Like any week at work, this book is a mix of the good and the exhausting. You might need to pair reading it with a Headspace session.

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