09/21/2015 03:39 EDT | Updated 09/21/2016 05:12 EDT

5 Types of Toxic Co-Workers and How to Deal With Them

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Colleauges gossiping with sad young businesswoman in foreground at a bright office

Toxic colleagues can make an otherwise great job into a living nightmare. All it takes is one impossible person and a job we love can be a job we need to leave.

Sadly, many people today are stressed, angry, unhappy or disturbed, and some of these individuals will take out their problems on the people they work with.

People who are being harassed by toxic co-workers are an unrecognized cause of lowered productivity in the workplace. Even a well-adjusted, reasonably content, highly productive person who's forced to work, day after day, with a toxic colleague could find that they're not functioning at their usual level.

It's impossible to be in the presence of a hypercritical, undermining, bullying or sabotaging colleague day after day, week after week, and not become stressed, angry or unhappy ourselves.

There are five types of toxic people in the workplace, and we need effective strategies for dealing with each one of them.

1. The Bully: This person is a coward and picks on those whom they see as weak or insecure. The way to shut them down is to start coming across as extremely confident and self-assured. The bully will back down and probably find someone else to bother.

2. The See-saw: This person comes in smiling and chatty one day and sullen and silent the next. You never know what to expect. Try not to take it personally and don't try to change them. Maintain a consistently pleasant, friendly but somewhat cool demeanor and they'll see that they can't get to you.

3. The Saboteur: This person is so jealous and competitive that they'll try to mess things up for you. You have to be on your guard with them, never trust them and always protect yourself. Back up all your conversations with emails; you may even need to cc a supervisor, just so that there's clear evidence of what's been said and done.

4. The downer: This person is miserable and wants you to be miserable too. Don't try to cheer them up but don't let them drag you down either. Without getting into disagreements or arguments with them, gently maintain your positive, optimistic attitude around them and maybe, just maybe, it will have a beneficial effect on this person.

5. The Gossip: This person's currency is information and they'll never hesitate to trade on it. No matter how close you think you are, assume that they're going to talk about you at some point, too. The way to shut them down is never to listen to their gossip, never repeat anything you hear in passing about anyone else and never, never tell this individual anything remotely personal about yourself. They'll soon see that they can't play their game with you.

Sometimes, no matter what we do, the toxic colleague is so impossible, and our management or HR department is so unwilling to address the issue that our only recourse is to look for another job. We shouldn't see this as a failing on our part, but rather, an act of self-protection, self-care and self-love.

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