Cleansing a Toxic Workplace

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Don’t let difficult employees or co-workers derail productivity and turn your business into a toxic dump. These tips can help correct problem behaviors.

When building a business, you likely focus on crunching numbers, crafting a business plan or devising sales strategies. But running a successful business also requires that entrepreneurs deal with the more human aspect of their business. And sometimes, that means dealing with employees who create a toxic atmosphere at work.

A toxic work environment not only saps morale, it can suck the life out of your company’s bottom line. Think about it: employees forced to contend with one or more disruptive personalities can’t focus on the job at hand, which tanks productivity and drives performance into the ground.

An article on Baseline Magazine discusses tips offered by Renee Evenson, an author and small-business consultant who specializes in workplace communication and conflict resolution. In her book, “Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Difficult People: Over 325 Ready-to-Use Words and Phrases for Working with Challenging Personalities,” she identifies toxic personality types, and provides useful tactics that you can employ to defuse the situation and to help restore a more productive workplace.

Backstabbers: Mind your body language when talking with badmouthing colleagues. Don’t absently nod in agreement as they talk. That signals tacit agreement—however unintentional—and only encourages them and reinforces the behavior.

Credit-Takers: Stop this behavior cold by encouraging your employees and managers to speak up and give credit where its due before the offender has the opportunity to grab the spotlight.

Bullies: Documenting the offensive behaviors is essential. Discuss the situation with the bully calmly—and privately. Focus on behavior and not personalities, and make it crystal clear what the consequences are if the behavior doesn’t stop.

Hypersensitives: Take a respectful tone when delivering constructive criticism. Again, this should be a private conversation, and be sure to focus on both the problem and the solution. Don’t make this about personalities.

Serial eMailers: Explain to your colleague that it’s not necessary to CC everyone on all email. Relay the types of email that you should receive and ask to be removed from all unnecessary CCs.

Know-It-Alls: Simply acknowledge and compliment the employee’s depth of knowledge, but politely and firmly state that you know what you’re doing.

Brown-Nosers: Humor can help in this situation. Encourage your employees to try gentle (emphasis on gentle) teasing to get the offender to cease and desist. It should work once he understands that everyone knows his game.

Hyper-Criticals: Short and simple is the best approach to this situation. Turn to the offender and say, “Thank you for your opinion.” Then just walk away.

Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of Small Business Computing. Follow Lauren on Twitter.

Adapted from How to Cope With Toxic Co-Workers by Dennis McCafferty at Baseline Magazine. Follow Baseline Magazine on Twitter.