How to know if someone will be difficult to work with

You walk into the office and see the cold stares of a fellow employee. As you quietly find your way to the cubicle farm, you realize you have become a target of derision. It makes you feel uncomfortable, and you start hoping you’ll find a new job soon (or new coworkers).

In any office, it can be hard to know when you’re surrounded by toxic employees. They might seem warm and cheerful at first. Slowly, you start to wonder. They seem to be in a bad mood no matter what. It might be temporary, but there are situations when toxicity is a long term ailment. There are a few ways to identify these workplace problems.

If one employee is hard to work with or there is a pervasive problem, these early warning signs can alert you.

1. They take a long time to respond

One of the curious things about difficult people is that they always seem to be busy and hectic all day. That might explain the dark cloud over their head. If you send an email and they wait a week to respond, it reveals a lack of empathy and caring. You are merely a task item in their queue. One silver lining is that circumstance might change — e.g., a lighter workload or new workers to help. If someone just can’t deal with stress, watch for constant delays in communication. Even if circumstances improve, there will still be delays.

2. They criticize first and praise later

Difficult people tend to criticize first. It’s their default reaction. Let’s say you are interviewing for a new job and the hiring manager asks you a question. You state your opinions clearly, but the person who could potentially be your future boss points out a few inconsistencies in what you said. Maybe they are all true, but people who tend to nurture a healthy work environment know
it’s better to point out the positives first, then offer a few “tips” for improving the answer.

3. They expect constant over-communication

You could argue that one of the main reasons people are toxic is that they have high expectations for everyone else but don’t think they have to work hard. I’ve had bosses in the past who expected constant communication, but would sometimes forget to pass along basic instructions. It’s a sign of laziness or lack of empathy. And, it reveals a lack of trust.

4. They make you feel stressed

Have you ever noticed that stressed-out people are never happy carrying that burden alone? They seem to want everyone else to be stressed as well. An early sign of a toxic workplace is when stress is the go-to emotion all day long — everyone expects you to be just as agitated. They may seem friendly and upbeat, but they also expect you to worry as much as they do. Unfortunately, stress is just a bridge to burnout, negativity, and toxicity.

5. They are never content

I used to work at a startup where everyone was fairly relaxed. I remember hanging out in the breakroom with employees who were there because they loved the work and they liked spending time together. In a toxic workplace, that’s never the case. There is no peace. There is always “the next project” and the next milestone. No one ever takes the time to celebrate and bask in the glow of success; they are not content and don’t even know what contentment is.