The Solution to a Toxic Coworker: Boundaries
I started working at a streaming company and almost immediately felt friction and tension with my boss and coworkers, many of whom have worked together at various companies for about 20 years. His way of working and doing things seemed old-fashioned and meaningless to me. I questioned the processes and policies and tried to make suggestions on how we could improve. All of my suggestions were immediately closed, particularly with a co-worker. That co-worker has been with the company the longest and was immediately put on the defensive. I also discovered that he has criticized me with other co-workers. I feel like she has helped people form premature opinions about me that are not true to my character or represent my work. (I should also note that this co-worker is a white woman, I am a black woman, and her assistant, who is also a black woman, has relayed to me the horrible things she said behind my back.)
Several other people have joined the company since I started and they also see the problems with this particular co-worker’s behavior. I have tried to discuss my concerns with her, and she criticizes me or does not acknowledge the behaviors. I have also spoken extensively with our manager about this. Our manager sees my point of view and apologized extensively for this woman’s actions, but he did not reprimand her or remove her from office.
How can I make this troublesome co-worker understand that her behaviors are toxic? I know I can’t change people, so how can I create boundaries between me and this woman? How can I influence my boss to take serious action on this issue and cultivate a work environment where everyone’s voice is heard and respected?
You are asking a lot of questions here for which there are no satisfactory answers. You want a toxic person to see the error of his ways, but if he were able to, he wouldn’t be so toxic. You want your new employee to be an ally, so you have at least one person on your side. He wants his boss to listen to his concerns and act accordingly. You clearly feel isolated, which is understandable.
But what you’re asking is, “How do I control people to behave the way I want them to?” I am afraid that is not possible even in situations where all you want is to be seen, heard and treated with respect. It’s challenging to join a company where the employees have a longstanding bond. This group doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in welcoming new hires, which inherently creates tension.
It also seems as if you walk into this organization and immediately start criticizing its processes without understanding the culture. That doesn’t justify this woman’s behavior in any way, but she may want to think of more effective ways to integrate with this new company. The only actions you can control are your own, so limits will, in fact, be your best defense. Limit your interactions with her. If she talks to you disrespectfully, call her and document it.
Develop a collegial relationship with your new hire. You don’t need to make him understand your co-worker’s toxicity. I’m pretty sure it’s self-evident. He plays chess, not checkers. Your co-worker is an obstacle that you have to get around until you find a way to overcome it. I hope that you and your new colleagues can develop a smoother working relationship. Toxic work cultures are unsustainable. You deserve more.