Setting Boundaries with Toxic People at Work

Sep 20, 2019

When you’re dealing with difficult people, be prepared to encounter resistance, arguments, justifications, excuses, attacks and the like. Just learn to accept that as part of the territory and do not try to fix it. That’s not your job, and the less you get caught up in rabbit trails, the clearer things will be for you.


But when you’re confronting someone at work, especially a boss, what you know about addressing personal issues may not be to your benefit in a professional setting. Whenever I teach on this, I get questions about the workplace, because people often do not feel free to say anything out of fear of losing their jobs.

And I appreciate those questions, as there is a hierarchy of needs in life. It’s more critical that you have food and clothing than a boss who is kind to you. However, that doesn’t do away with the need to be treated in humane ways either. If you are in a toxic work environment, here are some thoughts to consider.

First, people are usually more able to hear feedback than we give them credit for. You may be able to let someone know how his or her comments or behavior affect you. Look past your fear to see if he or she takes feedback from others, for example. If so, you just may need courage.

If you do think you can talk to the person, then ask if he or she would like some feedback about how to improve your working relationship. If the answer is “yes,” then tell the person that certain remarks or actions have hurt you and made it difficult for you to do your work and that you would like him or her to not do that anymore. That is pretty simple.

Second, make sure that you are not looking for validation from your boss. You have to give up that wish and find your compliments somewhere else, or get another job. If your workplace is toxic, you have to leave your needs for affirmation at the door and allow friends to meet that need. Do not try to get something from the person that he or she can’t provide. If you need the job, do your work and get your pay.

If the situation is really bad, and talking doesn’t work, then you still have some options. Get together with a few others in your office who have the same problem and request a meeting with the boss. It is more difficult to stay in denial with three people talking to you than it is with just one. Or tell your boss that you do not feel like you are getting resolution on the issue and that you would like another manager to meet with you. Different companies have different policies for handling grievances, but your company likely has one. Talk to someone in HR about the policy. If your company doesn’t have such a policy, you will have to ask yourself some tough questions.

Are you ready to take the risk of dealing with the problem? People do get punished for trying to solve problems. It is not the norm, but it does happen. You have to deal from a position of strength, not need. If you need a job, you have to take care of your need first. That means either knowing that you have another job in place or doing something to up your skills and “hire-ability.” If you are going to make wave, do not do it from a position of need. Get to a position of strength first. Have other options, just in case.

If a person is really abusive or you are wrongfully terminated for trying to solve a problem, then you have to talk with a lawyer. Labor law protects you from discrimination, harassment, abuse, unsafe workplace issues and other things. If toxic people have hurt you, you can always talk to a good attorney. 


Join my private community where topics like this come up all the time. Receive affirmation for the boundaries you set! Start here