The 4 Best Tricks for Dealing with Difficult Co-Workers

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The Challenge: Toxic people in the workplace are detrimental to our health and wellbeing

The Science: Research supports using mindfulness as a way to deal with difficult colleagues

The Solution: Apply mindfulness strategically to combat the effects of toxic people  

We’re all familiar with the scenario: an angry colleague starts an angry rant and ends up affecting our mood and productivity at work. We’ve all met them and unfortunately, a lot of us work with them. Toxic people are everywhere. They are the arrogant, angry, judgmental and manipulative individuals; the gossipers, victims, egocentrics and they are all hard to deal with. Everyone knows at least one of them, so it is important not to shy away from handling confrontation in the workplace. However, studies show that the way we manage toxic individuals is dependent on our emotional intelligence. And mindfulness, it just so happens, is among the most effective ways of enhancing that emotional intellgience.

What is mindfulness?

Most of us have heard of mindfulness but we’re often quite sceptical about whether it’s effective, especially in the workplace and when dealing with toxic people. Interestingly though, more and more companies are seeing the benefits of promoting the use of mindfulness. It is encouraged by many fortune 500 companies including Google, Apple, Ford and Nike. It might sound intimidating and a waste of time – we’re all busy people after all – but it’s not as strange as it sounds. It’s easy to practice and, as research attests, it can lead not only to higher productivity but also to better work relationships, including with the dreaded toxic person in your office.

The Benefits

The ability to successfully manage toxic people helps us at work by:

  • Saving time and money. It can often be very time consuming to deal with self-absorbed and angry colleagues. People with high emotional intelligence use mindfulness to quickly and effectively deal with difficult situations – leaving more time to get on with the day’s work.
  • Improving productivity. Toxic people can be emotionally draining and this negatively impacts your work.
  • Creating a more positive workplace. By successfully handling toxic individuals the whole team can benefit.
  • Building leadership. Indeed, a recent study showed that meditation increased self-confidence and other leadership skills.

When handled with mindfulness the process of dealing with these individuals can be relatively quick and pain-free.

This all sounds great, right? But how is it done?

Simple. Here are four tricks mindful people use to handle toxic people.

  1. Stay aware of your emotions

In his TED Talk, All It Takes Is 10 Mindful Minutes, meditation and mindfulness expert Andy Puddicombe explained that mindfulness helps us be present in the moment and aware of our emotions, an observer of them instead of being controlled by them (these claims, it is important to note, are heavily backed by modern research).

And when dealing with toxic people, the ability to observe the situation allows us to remain emotionally distanced and so handle the scenario calmly and quickly.

  1. Treat the situation like a scientist

Toxic people drive us mad because they are so irrational, but an easy way to rise above them is by emotionally distancing ourselves and approaching our interactions like they are a science project. There’s no need to respond to the emotional disorder – just the facts.

  1. Maintain your joy

Many people derive self-worth from other’s opinions of them. But when emotionally intelligent people feel joyful about an achievement it is usually based on their own view. Of course, it’s impossible to be unaffected by what people think of you, but if the judgement is coming from a toxic person take it with a pinch of skepticism.

  1. Focus on solutions instead of problems

It’s easy to get swept away by the negativity of a toxic person, but by focusing on the solution you promote positivity. This also makes you effective and in control of the situation. It will also reduce the amount of stress you experience while dealing with them.

This can be easier said than done, though. So how do you practice mindfulness to successfully deal with toxic people?

Here are a few simple actions for practising mindfulness:

Take Ten

When you’re swamped with work, this might sound a bit unreasonable, but taking ten minutes every day to calm your mind and focus on nothing on nothing specific can dramatically alter your mindset.

Get some fresh air

Taking a break outside can really clear your mind, especially when dealing with a toxic person. A walk in the park could refresh you so that you can deal with a toxic colleague with a level head.

Write a Daily Gratitude List

Studies have shown that people who practice gratitude every day by writing gratitude lists are more optimistic, and enjoy better overall mental health. It only takes a minute to jot down what’s good about your life and job.

Get your 8 hours of sleep

This might sound obvious, but it’s easy to overlook and easy to ignore. When we are tired it is harder to focus and difficult to mindfully deal with toxic people.

It is impossible to control how people behave but we can learn to be mindful of how we react to them — and maintain our internal emotional homeostasis while doing so.

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Martyn Newman

Martyn Newman

Dr. Martyn Newman is a clinical psychologist specialising in Emotional Intelligence & Mindfulness. He has published two books on the subject and is the organiser of the EQ Summit, which brings together the biggest names in emotional intelligence and mindfulness (and is featuring NYT bestseller Dan Goleman and TED speaker Sir Ken Robinson this year). Links: Website, Twitter, LinkedIn
Martyn Newman

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