Six ways to deal with toxic relationships in the workplace her magazine


If you’re looking for a trait that can help you succeed in business, it’s this, according to Dr. Jody Foster and Dr. Michelle Joy.

Drs. Joy and Foster are the authors of The Schmuck in My Office: How to Deal Effectively with Difficult People at Work. Joy and Foster have strong backgrounds in psychiatry. Foster is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Joy works as a psychiatrist in outpatient clinics, emergency rooms, court rooms, and jails. They’ve seen a broad range of relationships over the span of their careers. After meeting and working with a lot of frustrated workers, they knew they wanted to write a book about dealing with “schmucks”.

Have you ever had one of those days where you don’t think you can handle another frustrating conversation with a difficult coworker?

Have you ever struggled to deal with your own “schmuck” in the office?

One of HER Magazine’s goals is to champion and support women in business. There are enough hurdles for women to overcome in our industries so when we encounter schmucks, it can feel even more frustrating. How should you deal?

Start with honesty.

Be honest in how you asses the problem. Step back and try to remove yourself from the emotions of the relationship. You need to communicate problems in a direct, but non-confrontational way. If you’re wrapped up in negative emotions, you can’t do this. It may feel frightening or challenging to take this step. Joy and Foster explained that when we’re afraid to do this, we “let things form and norm into festering office places full of dysfunctional behavior.” Instead, it’s necessary to use “clear communication and early intervention based on honesty.” Your goal is to move to a more efficient and calmer environment.

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Be honest in how you view yourself. “The successful worker will be able to ask herself what she might be contributing to the problem and take some responsibility for working to make the office a better place.” If the “schmuck” is particularly bad, this can be an incredibly difficult step to take. Take note of this important advice from Joy and Foster: “there is almost always something each of us can do if we make an honest assessment of our workplace relationships.”

Our careers will always be built on relationships. Tools that can help us create strong ones and handle the bad ones well are valuable and their book includes these. Here are a few of the highlights of great tips I received from interviewing the authors. Find more information by visiting their site,

  1. Evaluate yourself. “No matter what the problem is, we ask that readers look inside to find at least part of the solution.”
  2. Find empathy. “…the bad actor… is struggling with their own problems.”
  3. Listen. “Time and time again it’s about listening for what any person is worried or anxious about and how that makes them difficult to be around.”
  4. Be flexible. “Our whole approach revolves around figuring out how to work with difficult people based on what their flavor of bad behavior is.”
  5. Support each other (especially other women!). “Women workers feel they should be more supported by other women and end up surprised and hurt when they aren’t.”
  6. Keep learning. “It’s about understanding other people, which is a skill most everyone can work on—even psychiatrists.”

The hardest part about dealing with “schmucks” may be recognizing our own part in the relationship, but if our focus is on continual self-improvement, there are many great tools for doing this. In recognizing our roles in bad relationships, we can also recognize our own capabilities. We have the capability to listen. People want to be heard. Even the “schmucks” want somebody to listen. Can you do so with the intent to understand?

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