• Elissa Shuck

How To Survive A Toxic Person In Your Workplace


Photo by Imre Tömösvári on Unsplash


A toxic work environment happens because it’s created. Sometimes it’s because company culture is neglected. I used the analogy of an unattended aquarium recently. Sure, for a time, life may survive. But it will never thrive. Whatever does live in the murky waters will most definitely stink and ultimately be uninhabitable.


In this article, I’m not going to address neglect. Instead, I’m going to address a toxic culture created as a by-product of a toxic person.


I’ve always been able to get along with anyone. So when a new CEO was brought in and when what started as an authentic connection with our new charismatic leader started spiraling, I did some deep research and found I was working for a narcissist.


I’m addressing toxicity as a result of the narcissistic personality because it’s the most insidious. Their effect on culture is more pervasive if they’re at the top of the org chart. But since we all have a sphere of influence, a toxic person at any level minimally affects a team and if left unchecked, contributes to the toxic company culture.


Some tale-tell signs of narcissistic behavior by a co-worker or leader include:

• Exaggerated feelings of self-importance

• Excessive need for admiration

• Extreme need for achieving power or success

• Lack of empathy – it’s always about them and their needs

• Enjoys arguing and battling the opinions of others

I survived in a company led by a narcissistic CEO. In fact, I would say I even thrived. I had more ideas and produced some of my best work because it challenged my sensibilities about myself. I don’t advise anyone stay in a toxic work environment or culture. I had a lot of healing to do when I finally got out.


But by looking inward for my own value, I found my own sufficiency and was able to survive because I learned I was not dependent on anyone to value me but me. I was able to commit to myself and my sphere of influence. I was determined to dig deep into my own resources and come out on the other side.


So, yes. There is good news. Until you have the opportunity to get out, you can survive and even choose what your toxic work environment will contribute to your current and future self.


Here are 10 Steps for surviving ::

1) Self-awareness and self-appreciation

This is a foundational skill for all of life, especially applicable when working in a toxic environment. Start with reminding yourself there are people who value you. If you need a place to start read your positive performance reviews or thank you notes you’ve received over the years. Read your LinkedIn endorsements and letters of recommendation. Reminding yourself of positive feedback from others will help you learn to find it for yourself.

2) Lower your expectations. A narcissist is typically incapable of empathy, fairness or sincere appreciation for what you do, so don’t set yourself up for disappointment by expecting it. When you don’t expect it, you minimize the chance you’ll get hurt. Combined with your power to decide what you will think in any given situation, you can decide their lack has nothing to do with your contribution.

3) Don’t take their actions personally. There is any number of reasons why someone exhibits narcissistic behavior. You choose the meaning you assign to any given circumstance. You can decide their actions mean nothing about you. If necessary, refer to Step 1.

4) Realize a narcissist tries to make others second-guess themselves. The psychological mantra No JADE can be helpful. You don’t need to JUSTIFY, ARGUE, DEFEND OR EXPLAIN. Remember, what others think about you is their story. You do not have to take on their story as your truth.

5) Stay calm, cool and collected. Narcissists like to push buttons, argue and pick fights. Realize you don’t need to (and will probably never) win those battles. When you stay calm, you’ll find it much easier to respond strategically.

6) Pause, talk quieter and speak clearly. One psychologist has pointed out that narcissists like to use their need for immediate action (or crisis) to bully people. Even a brief pause will help you maintain yourself. Talking quieter will help diffuse the situation and speaking clearly in your response will help prevent them from re-directing the conversation.

7) Be prepared for the rollercoaster ride. Narcissists have a way of making you (or someone else) the hero one minute and in the next, they’re demeaning you. Realize it’s about the narcissist, not you. When you decide to derive your value from yourself, you are getting off the ride.

8) Ignore aggressive body language. Sometimes a narcissist will use aggressive body language to leverage their power such as looking down on someone, leaning forward or physically blocking a path. A response by you will signal their tactic is working.

9) Keep your body language in check. If you have tell-tale signs of stress or anxiety (twirling your hair, picking skin, etc.), a narcissist will notice and exploit them by attacking even harder. As you continue to develop your personal inner strength, your outward behavior will align.

10) Have a way of escape. If you ever feel unsafe reach out to a neutral 3rd party such as someone in HR, an Employee Assistance Plan advisor or trusted mentor. Don’t point out the narcissistic behavior to others in the workplace as it might get interpreted as being disloyal.

Remember that when a toxic environment involves a narcissist, you must decide ahead of time to accept the culture will probably never change. A narcissist sees their behavior as a strength. They might even believe its good leadership.


You need to decide for you if it is an environment you can survive. When I was in it, I had a team depending on me for the right kind of leadership. It was my motivation for staying the course Only you can decide what’s right for you. Just know that when it gets hard, go back to these 10 steps.


If you find yourself beat up by a toxic work environment, nothing you are going through is a surprise to me and I'm here to help. I’ll teach you how to create emotional resilience and if it’s time to move on, we’ll rebuild your confidence and sense of direction. It’s OK to ask for help. Contact me today.


Elissa Shuck :: Strategic Life + Workplace Coach

elissa@es-strategic.com

Want a direct connection? Join my text community at 480-531-9490

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