How to Improve Toxic Workplace Relationships

Transform your work environment by learning how to improve toxic workplace relationships. Discover effective communication strategies, conflict resolution techniques, and teamwork skills to foster a positive atmosphere. Navigate challenges with empathy and collaboration, creating a healthier, happier workplace for everyone. Elevate your professional relationships with these practical tips for a more harmonious work experience.

Building positive connections with challenging colleagues is essential for a healthier work environment. Follow these steps recommended by Neri Karra Sillaman, an entrepreneurship expert at the University of Oxford, to transform toxic work relationships into collaborative teamwork:

Practice Empathy: Cultivate empathy to enhance your relationships. Actively listen to your colleagues’ perspectives and make an effort to understand their point of view.

By incorporating empathy into your interactions, you can contribute to a more positive and collaborative workplace environment.

How to Improve Toxic Workplace Relationships

Dealing with toxic workplace relationships involves recognizing signs and taking steps to address them. Spotting signs of toxicity is crucial, such as excessive criticism or undermining behavior. To mitigate, set boundaries, communicate openly, and seek support from colleagues or HR. Prioritize your well-being by fostering positive connections and addressing issues promptly.

How to Cure Toxic Workplace Relationships

How to cure toxic workplace relationships
How to cure toxic workplace relationships

To improve challenging workplace dynamics, consider these step by step strategies:

1. Identify the Issue

Recognize the specific type of toxic relationship – whether it’s conflicts among colleagues, problematic boss-employee dynamics, or office gossip.

2. Practice Empathy

Foster understanding by putting yourself in others’ shoes. This can help ease tensions and build better connections.

3. Setting Boundaries

Define and clearly communicate your personal and professional limits to maintain a healthy balance between your work and personal life.

4. Document Interactions

Keep a record of problematic incidents. This documentation can be useful when addressing issues with supervisors or HR.

5. Prioritize Self-Care

Take care of your well-being. Prioritizing self-care can help you navigate toxic relationships more effectively.

6. Address Conflicts Promptly

Don’t ignore potential conflicts; address them early on to prevent escalation.

7. Develop a Positive Connection with Your Manager

Cultivate a positive and supportive relationship with your manager to boost team spirit and efficiency. Kickstart monthly meetings, encourage open communication and showcase your innovative and proactive approach.

8. Combatting Gossip

To stop gossip in its tracks, follow these effective steps:

  • Zero-Tolerance Policies: Adopt strict rules against gossip. Make it clear that spreading rumors is not acceptable in our community or workplace.
  • Lead by Example: Be the change you want to see. Model positive behavior by avoiding gossip yourself and focusing on constructive conversations.
  • Confront Rumor Spreaders: Don’t shy away from addressing those who spread rumors. Confront them respectfully and encourage a culture of open communication.
  • Abstain from Participating: Refrain from engaging in gossip. Choose not to be part of discussions that involve spreading rumors or negative information.

By perfectly implementing these steps, we create an environment that promotes trust, respect, and proper positive communication.

9. Deal with a Toxic Environment

If the workplace is persistently toxic, communicate with your boss and HR. Provide specific examples of problematic behaviors and document instances of abuse within the company.

10. Create an Open Environment

Foster an open office culture where employees feel comfortable addressing and reporting toxicity. Encourage teamwork and collaboration to build a positive work atmosphere.

Healing Toxic Workplace Relationships

After landing my dream job at a prestigious London university, I unexpectedly found myself contemplating resignation just two months in. The reason behind this drastic decision was a toxic relationship with my assistant, whom we’ll call Ashley. Despite warnings from colleagues about her unsuccessful application for the same position, I believed I could build a positive working relationship with her. However, things took a different turn.

Ashley, despite her strong work ethic, began displaying resentment toward her role as an assistant. She took on tasks beyond her job description, never took breaks, and, over time, started encroaching on my managerial responsibilities. She would dominate meetings, report to the director instead of me, and even took the lead in my classes. Confronting her only resulted in her claiming she was “just trying to help,” leaving me feeling gaslighted and my dream job turning toxic.

Unfortunately, workplace toxicity is a widespread issue, with research indicating that 94% of respondents have worked with a toxic person in the past five years. The Workplace Bullying Institute found that 37% of American workers have experienced bullying at work. Such toxicity not only impacts employee well-being but also carries a hefty economic cost of $223 billion due to turnover.

Young professionals, especially women, people of color, or LGBTQ individuals, are particularly vulnerable to toxic relationships and may lack the resources to navigate them effectively. Many find themselves avoiding colleagues, feeling depressed, and contemplating leaving their jobs.

However, thriving in the face of toxic relationships is possible. By implementing specific strategies, one can manage the situation, regain confidence, and maintain a passion for their work. Although these strategies may not turn a toxic relationship into a friendship, they provide the understanding, empathy, and resilience needed to address the situation effectively.

In this article, I leverage research, personal experiences, and real-life stories to guide you on how to handle toxic workplace relationships and work effectively with almost anyone.

Handling Toxic Colleagues

Dealing with difficult coworkers is a common challenge, and avoiding confrontation can make things worse. Take a cue from my experience with my assistant Ashley: confronting issues directly is crucial for a healthy work environment.

Let’s look at Caroline’s story for inspiration. Despite her Ivy League education, she faced toxicity from a resentful manager after a company merger. Instead of addressing the problem, she actually endured it for five years, ultimately quitting. However, Caroline learned from this and took a proactive approach to her next job.

Here are the most effective steps to handle toxic colleagues:

  1. Recognize the Issue: Identify toxic behavior early to prevent it from escalating.
  2. Reflect on Boundaries: Learn from Caroline’s experience; set clear boundaries to regain control.
  3. Proactive Communication: Don’t wait. Address the problem directly by communicating boundaries and expectations assertively.
  4. Limit Interactions: Reduce unnecessary contact with the toxic person to protect yourself and your work.
  5. Learn from Research: Manuela Priesemuth’s research highlights that unaddressed toxicity, especially from leaders, can create a ripple effect. Don’t contribute to a toxic culture.
  6. Act Swiftly: Nip toxic behavior in the bud to prevent it from spreading throughout the workplace.

Actually, taking responsibility and addressing issues head-on is key to maintaining a healthy work environment.

Practice Empathy

Building positive relationships with challenging colleagues is crucial, and empathy plays a key role in achieving this. Empathy involves actively listening to others’ perspectives and making an effort to understand them. By practicing empathy, professionals can establish a sense of connection and compassion, ultimately bridging gaps and resolving conflicts.

Tony Schwartz, the author of “The Way We Work Isn’t Working,” suggests a practical way to develop empathy through the “reverse lens” approach. This involves asking questions such as, “What is this person feeling, and why does it make sense?” and “What role do I play in all of this?”

Chris Voss, the former lead international kidnapping negotiator for the FBI, emphasizes the importance of an empathetic approach in high-pressure situations. Seeing things from another person’s perspective can reveal solutions that were previously unseen. Additionally, taking a moment to understand someone else’s viewpoint can prevent impulsive and overly emotional reactions.

In a personal story with my colleague Ashley, I discovered she was upset because I got a job she deserved but didn’t get due to lacking some qualifications. By understanding her feelings, we worked together and successfully convinced our bosses to give her the recognition she deserved. This taught me that talking openly and being understanding can make work relationships better.

Managing Toxic Relationships: A step by step Guide to Documenting Interactions

When facing toxic relationships, it’s crucial to document interactions and incidents, particularly if you suspect gaslighting – manipulation that undermines your confidence in your own perception of events.

Here’s a proper practical approach inspired by researcher Savvas Trichas, who suggests adopting a “bee” strategy in dealing with workplace bullies. By becoming valuable and strong through diligent work (akin to a bee with a sting), you can empower yourself.

Follow these quick steps:

  1. Be the Bee:
    • Work diligently and make yourself indispensable.
    • Strengthen your position like a bee with a sting.
  2. Document Everything:
    • Scrupulously follow correct protocols.
    • Keep a detailed record of all interactions and incidents.
  3. Why Document?
    • Provides a powerful tool to hold toxic colleagues accountable.
    • Essential if you need to escalate the issue to management or HR.
  4. Caroline’s Story:
    • Example: Caroline, working in a male-dominated environment, faced health issues due to a toxic colleague.
    • Consulted a lawyer and received advice to document everything.
  5. Taking Action:
    • Went to HR with a clear record of toxic behavior.
    • While HR may not always support employees, documentation can protect you and hold management accountable.

Please keep in mind that documentation is your sting – a potent tool to navigate and address toxic relationships in both professional and personal settings.

Prioritize Your Well-being in Dealing with a Difficult Colleague

How to cure toxic workplace relationships at workplace
How to cure toxic workplace relationships at workplace

Taking care of yourself is essential, especially when dealing with a challenging coworker. Here are some effective tips to help you navigate such situations:

Make Time for Yourself

Set aside time for activities that rejuvenate you, like exercising, pursuing hobbies or spending time with loved ones.

Rest and Nutrition Matter

Ensure you get enough sleep and maintain a healthy diet. Taking care of your physical health contributes to your overall well-being.

Gain a Fresh Perspective

Stepping back allows you to see situations with a fresh perspective. This renewed energy can help you tackle challenges more effectively.

Explore Relaxation Practices

Consider activities like yoga or mindfulness meditation. These practices, endorsed by experts like Daniel Goleman, can enhance your stress-handling abilities.

Recognize Red Flags

Be wary of any attempts by your company or colleagues to encroach on your self-care time. Such actions may indicate a toxic environment that needs addressing.

Set Boundaries

In situations where others interfere with your personal time, establish clear boundaries. For instance, if your manager obstructs your vacation plans, communicate your needs and stand firm.

Manage Toxic Work Relationships

Dealing with a toxic work relationship can be tough, especially early in your career. Practice empathy, set boundaries, document interactions, and prioritize self-care to navigate these challenges effectively.

Contribute to a Healthy Workplace

By prioritizing your well-being, you not only benefit personally but also contribute to a healthier and happier workplace. This helps prevent toxicity from spreading and fosters a positive environment for everyone.

In short, implementing these strategies can empower you to survive and thrive even in difficult work situations.

Final Words: How to Improve Toxic Workplace Relationships

Adopting strategies outlined in “How to Improve Toxic Workplace Relationships” can serve as a powerful guide to cultivating a healthier and more harmonious professional atmosphere. By proactively embracing open communication, fostering empathy, and promoting mutual respect, we have the tools to break down toxic workplace dynamics. Through consistent effort and a collective commitment to positive change, we can transform our work environments into spaces where collaboration thrives, and every team member feels valued. Let’s implement the insights from this guide, taking small yet impactful steps toward creating a workplace culture that prioritizes understanding, cooperation, and shared success.

Disclaimer: The examples provided in this article are drawn from real-life experiences. However, the names of the individuals involved have been changed as per their request.


How does a toxic workplace set you up to fail?

A toxic workplace can make success feel nearly impossible in a few key ways. First, when gossip and office politics run rampant, it creates an atmosphere of mistrust that can undermine your efforts. Additionally, if the company tolerates or even encourages unclear directions, policies, and job expectations, it sets you up for failure from the start. Without a clear understanding of how your performance will be measured, it’s like trying to hit a target with your eyes closed. A healthy work environment should prioritize clear communication and transparent expectations to support employee success.

Is it OK to walk away from a toxic work environment?

Even if you don’t have another job lined up, it’s often a good idea to give your two weeks’ notice or just quit to escape a toxic job before it gets worse. You’ll likely find support from someone in the workplace to help you smoothly transition into your next chapter.

Is it worth it to leave a toxic workplace?

Toxic workplaces can be really demoralizing. If you’ve been stuck in one for a while, it might have even taken a toll on your self-confidence. If you find yourself doubting your abilities, it’s probably a sign that it’s time to consider a change and look for a healthier work environment.


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