How to Address Toxic Work Relationships?

September 26, 2021by Vanessa Rose0

Are you wondering how to address toxic work relationships that are getting in the way of personnel and performance? You might be in a pretty tricky situation if that question has crossed your mind. In some work environments, people are drawn to each other because they enjoy gossip, engaging in constant criticism, or chronically igniting conflict. These toxic relationships can be detrimental to those involved, but they can also have long-standing impact on leadership and their fellow employees.

How to Address Toxic Work Relationships?

Learning how to address toxic work relationships is critical to ensuring problematic roots don’t grow into more permanent issues. Here are some ways to get ahead of these relationships before they get ahead of you.

Start at the Top

Normalized toxicity in a workplace doesn’t usually start from the bottom but rather trickles down from the top. You might be thinking that is a strange idea, that leadership would be creating the toxicity. While that is true in some instances, leaders don’t have to actively create a toxic environment in order for them to be responsible for one.

According to EVERFI, Inc. the leading social impact education innovator, a recent survey revealed that less than half of managerial respondents took an active role in creating a positive workplace culture and even fewer leaders admitted to being proactive about preventing problems before they begin. Some of these problems may be a generally toxic work culture, or the issue may be more specifically individual relationships that are toxic and resonate out into other areas of the business. In either case, a proactive leader would intervene before the issue grows. Consider exploring resources such as conflict prevention or de-escalation training to help arm you with the right tools.

Target the Right Issue

While being proactive about problem-solving is important, leaders want to be sure not to paint with broad brush strokes. This may be tempting, especially if you want to resolve these issues quickly and get back to the job at hand. But addressing things too broadly is not likely to be effective, so if you’re noticing toxic relationships brewing among certain employees, be sure not to apply the same style of management to those who are simply going about their work day. Instead, address the employees involved in the behaviors that seem to be impeding on the company culture. Have a one-on-one conversation with them to explore what needs they may have that aren’t being met, establish expectations for behavior on the team, and offer clear consequences for what will happen if expectations continue to not be met.

Listen to Feedback from Employees

If your employees are speaking up about others, listen carefully. They will be able to give you insight as to what’s happening within the team dynamic. Be wary of those who are speaking without objectivity, for they may be the ones operating from a toxic perspective. But employees who are asking for support in navigating challenging relational dynamics in which they are experiencing bullying, harassment, discrimination, and constant criticism, or where they are encountering teammates or who are not team players should be listened to. Use this initial information to gather more data and find out what next steps are most appropriate.

Set Boundaries

If you are being pulled into the toxic relationship yourself, it will be very important to set clear boundaries and let it be known what you will and won’t be willing to partake in interpersonally. Clear communication and re-enforcement of those boundaries will be clear in letting those employees know what they can and cannot expect from you. This is also important to model for others so they can begin to do the same, if they aren’t already. Employees at all levels should be well-equipped to set boundaries with folks who are willing to push beyond the limits of others.

Take Care of Yourself

Leading can be tough, especially because you’re often tasked with managing conflict at work. And if you’re facing particular challenging personalities or a team that’s not handling overwhelm gracefully, you may be on the brink of burnout yourself. It’s important that you take care of your own personal needs for several reasons, one being that emotional regulation in the workplace is incredibly important. Healthy emotional regulation brought about by self care allows for the maintenance of homeostasis while the issue of toxicity is being resolved. If issues need to be de-escalated, a reaction of stress from the boss won’t help. Plus modeling self-care for other employees can help temper the company culture and reduce overall instances of conflict. Not to mention you deserve to put your own wellness first as much as anyone at the company.

Learning how to address toxic work relationships is a great proactive approach to a low conflict work environment. If this is a reactive move for you, however, and current conflict is ablaze, you might need to call in the professionals. Contact Pollack Peacebuilding Systems today to get the right solutions for your team.

Vanessa Rose

Vanessa is a licensed psychotherapist and writer living in Los Angeles. When not on a mission for inner peace and conflict resolution, she enjoys making art, visiting the beach, and taking dog portraits. Always curious about self-improvement and emotional expansion, Vanessa also manages her own website which explores the unconscious and archetypal influences on how we eat, express, and relate.

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