Don’t be the victim of a co-worker’s obnoxious behaviour. Take control, say these Singapore career experts; here’s how you can tackle these six types of “toxic” colleagues.

6 ways to tackle your toxic colleagues 

Here’s how to handle the office bully, the perfectionist and more “toxic” co-workers. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

“My colleague uses foul language, criticises our work and makes us look incompetent. He says he’s ‘just honest and outspoken’.” – Karen*, 35, event planner

THE EXPERT SAYS Ignore him. Once he loses his audience, he may stop his bullying. If his behaviour disrupts your work, report him to human resources. Teo Ser Lee, founder and director of Protocol Academy in Singapore, suggests a heart-to-heart talk with him. Approach him in a calm and confident – not accusatory – manner. “Avoid being emotional,” she advises. “Maintain eye contact. Don’t cross your arms defensively or fiddle with your hair. Address his behaviour and don’t get personal. Finding fault with him as a person will only fan the fire.”


“My co-worker boasts about being close to the boss, making me feel like I’ll get into trouble if I don’t do as she says.” – Julia*, 38, accountant

THE EXPERT SAYS Don’t share anything with her, says Ser Lee. “But be civil and maintain a good working relationship. Don’t step on her toes, but don’t allow her behaviour to affect your work either. Don’t feel pressured to take instructions from her. She may be close to your boss but she’s not the boss.”


“When my supervisor e-mails me, she copies the entire office. If I’m late for a meeting or make typos, everybody knows.” – Eva*, 30, production manager

THE EXPERT SAYS E-mails should be on a need-to-know basis, says Paul Heng, founder and executive coach at Next Corporate Coaching Services in Singapore. “She could be trying to tarnish your image, or she’s lacking in e-mail etiquette.” Paul advises that you ask her not to copy the office on such e-mails and to let you know one-to-one if she’s displeased with your work.


“My colleague watches my every move because she fears being outdone. She’s doing all she can to get a promotion that’s up for grabs.” – Amelia Ho, 30, sales manager

THE EXPERT SAYS “She seems unsure of herself, and it’s making her paranoid,” says Annemarie Cross, personal branding expert and career coach from Advanced Employment Concepts in Australia. “You’re doing something right, and this makes her nervous. Be wary about what you disclose to her; share only what is necessary for the team. If you get promoted, you may become her boss, which will change the dynamics.”


“My boss doesn’t allow for mistakes and hates it when we suggest better ways of doing things.” – Patricia*, 28, publicist

THE EXPERT SAYS “Your boss takes her work very seriously – it is almost an extension of herself,” says Annemarie. “Her team’s results are a reflection of her, down to the smallest detail. Because she is averse to something going wrong, she is wary of trying anything new.” Propose changes in writing and back up your claims, Annemarie suggests. Present information early and explain the benefits. Be straightforward, not casual. Show her you have thought about it carefully, so she will be more likely to take you seriously. Don’t criticise her. Give her time to take everything in.


“My co-worker only accepts instructions in black and white. She refuses to help unless the entire discussion is done via e-mail.” – Rebecca*, 36, marketing executive

THE EXPERT SAYS “She’s afraid of getting into trouble, so she’s covering all her bases,” says Paul. “For minor matters, make it clear that you will discuss the issue in person or over the phone.” If she doesn’t ease up, Paul suggests telling her how her dogmatic working style makes the team feel like they are not trustworthy.


*Names have been changed

This article was originally published in SimplyHer October 2012.