Coping With Bullies and Toxic People: Getting Caught In The Middle

Getting Caught In The Middle

Despite our best efforts, sometimes we still get caught up in the web of toxic individuals. They use our name in vain or somehow get us tied up in whatever innocent-looking scheme they’ve got cooked up, but by the time we find out what it is, our own goose is cooked. Triangulation is the dance that bullies and toxic individual perform to provoke jealousy or animosity between other individuals, all the while playing the innocent bystander. But if you find yourself in the muck, even when you are minding your own business, you will likely find that you are caught in the middle of a very toxic triangle.

Triangulation typically starts as an innocent conversation that turns into a gossip-fest featuring “He said, she said” commentary. You can bet that whatever he or she said is something nasty about you. Your response to the gossip, particularly if it’s negative, will certainly be carried “back” to the (supposed) original commentator but turned around as if YOU were the one who made the original comment.

It’s very likely that nothing at all negative has been said about you by any outside third party, but a toxic individual will want you to think so. Maybe you have made friends with the third party in question, something the bully envies, so they will do whatever it takes to break your friendship apart.

Triangulation might be used get rid of one coworker by getting the staff to turn on them. If you find that you are being shunned or feel like you are being targeted for shaming by management, it might be a fair bet that you are the coworker being triangulated against, even if you have done your best to do your job and mind your own business.

Triangulation is usually the last ditch effort that a bully or toxic individual will use to eliminate anyone on the job whom they feel is a threat. You will know, without a doubt that it’s time to find a new job when you see it happening either to you or around you.

Below are some tips to help you hold your own until you can find a less toxic environment to work in:

1) Ask a simple question: Why are you telling me this? A follow-up question could be, “why did the original commentator feel comfortable telling you this about me, in the first place?” Someone who has your interests at heart isn’t going to sit around long enough for someone to say nasty things about you. And, if they did, is that someone that you can really trust? Like the old saying goes, “Don’t tell me what they said about me, tell me why they felt comfortable saying it to you?”

2) Do NOT react. No matter what gossip is getting back to you about yourself, it’s best to play it off as something you don’t care much or think much about. If you react negatively, your negative reaction will be used against you to triangulate with the other party. If you react too positively, it’s possible the bully or toxic individual will take it as a challenge. If you act like you don’t care and do not respond, the gossip will stop coming to you because people will be aware that you don’t react to nonsense.

3) Take notes. One way to protect yourself, if it turns out that you are the one being triangulated against, is to keep a journal of any questionable or negative encounters, while you are interacting with coworkers. If you keep a record of what was said, by whom, and when, it will be harder for others to smear your reputation.

4) Just keep doing your job. And do it well. If rumors start spreading about how you might be a slacker or how you wish that you didn’t have so little or so much work, proving that you do a great job with the work you do have is a helpful deterrent if management tries to shame you, based solely on gossip and not your actual work-ethic.

Have you ever experienced triangulation on the job? How do you handle coworkers who seem to want to stir up drama on the job.?

Other posts in the series:

How To Determine If You Are Being Scapegoated

How To Determine If You Are Being Gaslighted

Coping With Bullies and Toxic People: Gray Rock Method

Are You Being Baited?

How Do You Deal With Toxic Enablers?

Building Boundaries to Brace Against Toxic Individuals

Beware of Flying Monkeys

Coping With Bullies and Toxic People: Beware of the Hoovering Coworker

Coping With Bullies and Toxic People: No or Low Contact

Coping With Bullies and Toxic People: The First Red Flags


On this site, I will continue sharing my experiences with a toxic workplace and offer advice, based on my own practices, on how to stick it out, if you can’t leave, right away. So watch this space, as I hope to make it a permanent feature.

Feel free to send email to Contact@dizzydezzi.com with questions, comments, concerns or to share your own story or to get advice.

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