Namita Pradhan, second from right, works alongside colleagues at iMerit’s technology center in Bhubaneswar, India, Jan. 31, 2019. Tech executives rarely discuss the labor-intensive process that goes into the creation of artificial intelligence, which is learning from thousands of office workers around the world.
Photo: Rebecca Conway/The New York Times
Photo: Rebecca Conway/The New York Times

Wait a minute, what if you're the toxic co-worker?

It's like the classic mystery plot where the detective turns out to be the criminal. So many of the people who apply the toxic label to family members, bosses and romantic interests are far more toxic themselves. This can be painfully true in the workplace, where those calling out toxic behavior are very likely to be the worst behaved.

"People avoid scheduling meetings with them, hold a folder in front of their faces to avoid eye contact, and always seem to walk out of the break room the second they walk in," Monster noted.

But this is different from that guilty detective because many toxic co-workers are unaware that they are the ones making everyone miserable. For example, you may never have noticed that you're the one who flakes out on group projects. Or maybe you always thought that sharing the latest rumor made you popular when that habit is toxic with a capital T. Do you dare to discover whether you are the toxic factor? Here are seven symptoms that the toxic person in your work life is, in fact, you:

You're jealous of others and it shows. Sure, you've been feeling jealous since your little sister came home from the hospital. But at work, the common trait can morph into toxic behavior, according to Inc. "This can be especially true if you also happen to be a brilliant employee at your job. You know, the one who's used to getting promotions, accolades, and pats on the back," Inc. explained. "If a co-worker starts to get the attention instead, your jealous tendencies may show through in ways that make you a toxic presence in the office." When jealousy is steering your actions, you may be upfront about it or resort to extra-toxic tactics, like "sarcastically telling the employee congratulations on getting a great opportunity," Inc. added.

Sounds like you? Get jealousy under control by quitting all those comparisons, Inc. recommended. "Keep your own goals internal and focused, and you'll feel more confident even when someone else gets something you wanted."

You're at lunch alone — again. Whether you're left out at lunch or "there seems to be some sort of gravitational phenomenon in the break room where everybody else finds a chair away from you. Take that as a hint. People might be avoiding you, and that's a sign," the Glassdoor blog advised. "If you find yourself in a lonely and frustrating position, examine your behavior. Work on building relationships with your workmates."

You judge. Monster uses this example: "You're quick to point out that there was a typo on the 14th slide of a co-worker's presentation." Sure, it's your job to point out mistakes. But when that's all you do, that's a sign you're the toxic co-worker. "Toxic people tend to look down on other people when they make mistakes while holding themselves in immaculate esteem," Dr. Logan Jones, a New York City–based psychologist told Monster. To fix this tendency, "let people shine in their role and stick to your own expertise," career advice blog Cubicle Chic blogger Jessica Koong told Monster. "It also doesn't hurt to practice the 'if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything' rule when you have the urge to tell someone about their mistake or flaws."

Everything's about you. Depression about a family issue, anxiety or a plain old need for attention can motivate you to steer every conversation to focus on you. Are you doing that? Stop, advised Inc. "Notice if you feel the desire to chime in only to steer the conversation back to you. Instead of giving in to this tendency, ask someone else a question. Give another person the floor for a while, and let a co-worker have a chance to shine."

You spread gossip far and wide. People become gossip mongers because they're scared others will look better than they do, Louisiana career coach Connelly Hayward told Monster. "Toxic co-workers are 'pot stirrers' and strive to make others look bad."

Instead of succumbing, "identify the source of the conflict and resolve it professionally. Do not spread gossip or rumors, do not try to get co-workers on your side, or cast your friend in a negative light with a supervisor," Jessica Methot, an associate professor of Human Resource Management at Rutgers University told Monster.

Your brilliant idea is met with silence. When your input "brings the conversation to a crashing halt? That probably means you haven't been paying attention to your colleagues," Glassdoor noted. "You might feel like your idea was the best for the group. But if it's met with confused looks and awkward pauses you likely haven't been listening. Instead of handing down one seemingly great pronouncement, collaborate more with your colleagues to give and take ideas. Show you value their opinions, and they'll begin to value yours."

To be honest, moving from toxic co-worker to supportive, productive colleague is an involved journey. But recognizing your toxic input at the workplace can be an important first step. Remember, according to Monster, "Toxic co-workers don't just impact whether you have people to sit with at lunch. They also affect the company's bottom line, which means, if it's you, it could cost you your job."

And if your first impulse is to forward this list of potential toxic behaviors to a friend who "might be able to use this" and then move along? Try to be better than that, advised business speaker Michael Kerr, author of "The Humor Advantage." At the very least, consider the issue from a self-preservation standpoint. Taking steps to correct behaviors that make your co-workers hate you can pay off, immediately. "When your co-workers like you, everything becomes easier," Kerr told Wisestep. "People have your back when you need it the most, you can ask for and get favors more easily, people will volunteer to help in times of need, and you can get far better cooperation even across departments."

And if being so self-centered makes you a narcissist, well, at least you're using that toxic trait to suck some of the poison from the workplace.

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