Money Talking

At Work: How to Find out If You're a Toxic Coworker

August 3, 201614 min
It seems like every employee has dealt with a toxic coworker — that one colleague that makes life at work miserable.
"They're the kind of people you just can't stop thinking about and wishing they were gone,” said Heidi Grant Halvorson, a social psychologist and associate director of the Motivation Science Center at Columbia University. “You just know that you could do so much better at your job if that person wasn't there."
Now, complaining about these types of colleagues is easy — what's hard is stopping to consider if you might be the one everyone hates working with.
Halvorson shared some pointers with Money Talking host Charlie Herman on spotting toxic coworkers — and finding out if you’re the one ruining your colleagues’ lives.
1. There’s a difference between annoying and toxic. If you’re toxic, you irritate everyone around you and undermine the effectiveness, well-being and productivity of employees who work with or near you.
2. You’re probably really good at your job, so management can’t or won’t see how much you’re depressing the productivity of everyone around your. (Research suggests toxic coworkers do more to hurt the bottom line than superstar employees do to boost productivity, Halvorson says.)
3. You’re not warm. You come off as unsympathetic or inattentive and it's often a result of poor body language and behavior. For example, people who don’t make eye contact when being spoken to come off and untrustworthy.
4. You’re self-centered. If you’re focused exclusively on your own goals and projects and aren’t curious about the work of other colleagues, you can come off as a bad team player.
5. You don’t communicate. You make people guess your intentions rather than telling people what they are.
6. You’re a “Rule Nazi.” You’re completely inflexible and cling to the rules, often without explaining why they’re important.
And extra tip: Halverson says much of the way toxic coworkers are perceived comes from lack of communication and self-awareness. A good way to find out how coworkers see you is by having them complete this sentence:
"If I didn't know you so well, I’d think that you were... "
For more, check out Halvorson’s article on toxic colleagues for the Harvard Business Review.

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