Woman with eagle

Is Vulnerability the Solution to Toxic Coworkers?

Did you know that June 1st is World Narcissistic Abuse Day? Last year, I wrote about how to identify and handle a narcissist. That post was geared towards those close relationships where narcissism becomes abusive or oppressive, and how to pull yourself out of that toxic cloud.


This year, I’m focusing on toxic and narcissistic coworkers. These relationships are often different in that we may not be as close, emotionally, to coworkers as we are to friends or family, but their toxicity can still have a significant impact on our own wellbeing.


(The following post originally appeared in Entrepreneur)


In personal relationships, I believe the only way to handle a narcissist is to cut them out. However, short of quitting your job, that isn’t always possible with a coworker.


Toxic behaviour in a coworker can take the form of:


  • Blame – The finger is always pointed outwards. Every situation, mishap, etc. is someone else’s fault. If the toxic person is targeting you, it’s usually YOUR fault.
  • Defensiveness – It’s hard to move forward with this person because every challenge is met with a “Not my fault” or “I had nothing to do with this” attitude. The heels dig in and progress stalls.
  • Stonewalling – This person is always late to reply to emails or doesn’t answer the phone, especially when they know their input is needed. They avoid instead of stepping up to the plate.
  • Contempt – This can be as obvious as verbal attacks, name calling and threats, or as subtle as eye rolling, sarcasm, gossiping and even circumventing the chain of command. This person is disrespectful and undermines those around them.


A toxic coworker may exhibit all or even just one of these characteristics. The defining factor is that it is continuous behaviour that holds back progress and brings others down.


So. How do you handle it? By getting vulnerable… with yourself.


Get vulnerable

Narcissists prey on vulnerability, so don’t pour your heart out to them. In fact, as Brene Brown, author of Dare to Lead says, boundaries are key to vulnerability. Purging all your thoughts and feelings onto someone else is not vulnerability.


Instead, turn that finger inwards and recognize your own wounds. When someone triggers you, it indicates something you need to heal. It may be a past hurt, low confidence, imposter syndrome, lack of self worth… what feelings or thoughts are being triggered within you? Where are they coming from? What do you need to heal?


Get vulnerable with yourself, then consider getting vulnerable with someone you trust – a loved one, a mentor, a coach, a therapist… Someone who can support you and keep you accountable as you work to heal your wounds.


When you heal these wounds, you take yourself, your team and your business to a whole new level. Businesses can only go as far as their leaders. The more you work on yourself, the more you become a leader and can have a successful impact within the organization.


Recognize the wounds in others

While you’re working on your amazing self, what of the narcissist? They’re still there, spreading their poison.


We are all wounded souls. When someone triggers me, I imagine how wounded they are. I don’t want to add to the wound. Instead, I feel empathy for them send them love. These are the people that need it most.


It’s normal to react instead of respond when your own wounds are triggered. But, if you’ve done the work to heal yourself, it’s easier to recognize pain in others, recognize that their behaviour is not personal, but about them and their issues, and to respond with compassion.


Understand where your responsibility ends and theirs begins

Empathy, understanding, positive thoughts… these are great. But, when it comes to someone else’s wounds, remember that you are only responsible for how you respond. You are not responsible for healing those wounds.


Aim to be a source of positive energy, not a doormat. Once again, boundaries are key. It’s ok for someone to feel angry or hurt. It’s not ok for them to put you down or expect you to fix things for them.


I tell clients that if they truly want to heal their wounds, they need to look within. Looking outside will only get you bandaids, not real change. Don’t be anyone else’s bandaid. You’re draining yourself and not actually helping them improve.


Keep that finger pointed inwards, towards what you can control, what you need to heal, and what you truly are responsible for. You cannot change other people’s behaviour. You can only change how you respond to it. Take responsibility for your own healing, growth and responses. Lead by example. If someone else is ready to change, you may inspire them. If they aren’t, send positive thoughts, but let go of the outcome.


Building cultures of trust

If you are a leader dealing with toxicity within your team, the greatest impact you can have is in changing the team culture. Here are a few posts to show you what’s possible:



When people feel recognized and valued at work, and able to put their best foot forward, they are less likely to hide behind toxic behaviours and better equipped to deal with such behaviours from others. Stronger people make stronger teams, and that makes stronger businesses.


Contact me if you would like to learn more about how Team Performance Coaching or Corporate and Leadership Coaching can transform your business.


To you being the CEO of your life!