toxic colleague

6 ways to spot a toxic colleague 

Do you have to share a team with the classic toxic colleague, but you are still unsure whether to describe them this way? In this post, we will try to describe this type of worker who aims to move up in organizations by prioritizing their personal needs at all times. 

Unless we take our work as strictly food for thought and lack the slightest professional ambition, we all have a specific desire – no matter how small – to progress in our professional careers. We want to improve our working conditions and, of course, our status and prestige. 

The toxic colleague tries to move up the ranks within the company or from one company to another without caring much about the social or emotional price to pay for it. They are not usually too concerned about whether or not they have enough merit to reach the position to which they aspire at any given time.

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How antisocial is the toxic colleague?

Relatively. Whether disguised as much or well, or disguised as little or poorly, the toxic colleague attaches little importance to forging real, positive, and solid bonds with peers, except in a few cases. It is a question of priorities. 

Indeed, the fact that they are in “too much” of a hurry to move up does not mean that they do not generate these bonds or lack the slightest social skills (some very socially awkward climbers and others who are skilled in interaction). 

Unless the person is mentally unbalanced, a fellow career climber is still a person with feelings and the potential to have relationships with other individuals. The toxic colleague doesn’t cease to be a vulnerable person like any other. That is why they need to weave a network of alliances in their relationships at work to boost their career and build plan B if plan A does not work out the first time around. 

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toxic colleague

What happens, quite simply, is that they have their priorities, and the first of them is to get promoted regardless (excessively) of the price. The rest can wait.

This is how toxic colleagues work

We usually follow our professional path as if it were a road that we tread at different speeds, as we adapt to the characteristics of that road—adapting, not sweeping them away. 

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This way, the road on which our career path runs sometimes gets uphill, rocky, or muddy, and we assume that we have to move slower along our path. Other times the weather is good, we go smoothly, we are in good shape, and we move forward at an excellent pace, passing through the stages faster than expected. 

However, the toxic colleague is characterized by taking the idea of a good pace to another level and following another type of methodology to trace their professional career. Theirs is pure and complex climbing as if the premise were imposed that the higher you get in the shortest possible time, the better… regardless of what is left along the way. 

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Some paths are more reasonable, predictable, and adjusted to our characteristics at any given moment. Still, they are also longer and slower to follow, and the toxic colleague does not usually choose them. After all, climbing is a way of adapting to the work ecosystem and a method for forging a professional career by reaching the goals you set for yourself through shortcuts.

How to spot a toxic colleague 

1. They have an agile and, at times, frenetic pace

The pace at which the toxic colleague who wants to move up operates is fast. The speed with which they wish to establish themselves, consolidate and move up within a company or move from position to position strategically is high. You can’t get lost or settle: jobs are stepping stones to reaching higher levels in less time. The high speed with which you progress professionally is your characteristic. 

2. Tends to hog

Related to the above is their work style, marked by the desire to hog tasks, responsibilities, attention, and recognition, so they react negatively when they do not get it. The toxic colleague is intensely involved in the work as if they were going to “inherit” it, but that does not necessarily mean that they are an outstanding worker. They often disguise with selflessness what is a desire for control and a desire to offer an image of maximum efficiency so that, with a bit of luck, their style contrasts with the lack of involvement of their colleagues.  

3. Wants to be above the rest

The toxic colleague leaves little room for others: for others’ ideas, opinions, and others to shine. They tend to overshadow their peers’ results or delegitimize them, either passive-aggressively or indirectly. The important thing is that their point of view prevails: everyone is friends as long as that happens.

4. Success is “everything”

Their professional sphere nourishes their personal fulfillment, mainly by success and professional recognition. This, in principle, does not make them special. Like so many other people, the fellow career climber also seeks professional status as a form of self-affirmation. What differentiates them from other people is that they need it in such a way that to achieve it, they are willing to sacrifice other aspects of life related to interpersonal relationships, affection, healthy alliances, friendship at work, and sharing spaces with others. They are colder about this than about the possibility of advancement.

5. No time to lose

As indicated, the toxic colleague who wants to move into the professional world is professionally impatient. They are eager, hoarders, and fast because they have no time to lose and try to take advantage of any shortcut in their career path to progress without the burnout caused by waiting. We could say that they find it difficult to wait their turn on a professional level. 

6. Their kindness has a price

Their generosity is more instrumental and utilitarian than honest. The toxic colleague who just wants to move up in their professional sphere cannot progress independently (no human being can do so in any area of life). They need to forge a minimum network of affinities and alliances to be able to propel themselves, adapt to the environment, and disguise some of their attitudes. 

This leads them to be very kind, generous, and concerned with some of their companions. Sometimes, when they have few skills as a career climber, they slip into the error of flattering others – praising them exaggeratedly, sucking up to them – to gain their trust and sympathy

Although they may not always practice their tactics skillfully, the career climber knows perfectly well that in certain types of work environments, it is better to do favors than to owe them, so they do not mind helping others even if they do not ask for it or do not need it: it is a way of being liked and owed loyalty in the future.

toxic colleague

Emotional well-being program for companies 

At ifeel, we have one goal: to help companies take care of their employees in a comfortable way and, of course, to accompany them to build a healthy and friendly corporate culture for all. To achieve this, our team of psychologists specializing in well-being at work has created an emotional well-being program for companies.

Through this collaboration, HR managers can receive personalized, data-driven advice on how to improve their team’s psychological well-being. In addition, this program offers employees a comprehensive mental health care service structured at different levels according to their needs. Try our program now to see all its benefits.

Also, don’t forget to visit our Resources section, where we have a variety of content such as podcasts, HR Guides, or Interviews with top leaders. In addition, we have a Psychosocial Risk Factors Template. We encourage you to use it to comply with the requirements of the Labor Inspection.

We hope this post about the toxic colleague has been interesting. If you want more information about our emotional well-being program for companies? Simply request it, and we will contact your team as soon as possible.

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