It’s inevitable—at almost any workplace you will run into difficult coworkers. Some of these types of problematic coworkers include the negative coworker, the overly competitive coworker, the gossip, the bully, and the person who pushes off work. Hopefully, your office doesn’t have too many of these types of people, but if it does here’s how to—almost, anyway—deal with working alongside them.
The Negative Coworker:
This one always has something negative to say, no matter what. True, it can be helpful to have a critical thinker on the team who plays devil’s advocate, but far too often this person is quick to criticize without offering up solutions.
Whenever I think about negative coworkers, I’m reminded of a quote from one of my favorite books, Bossypants by Tina Fey. She says, “Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles.” This person does the latter. If you hear someone constantly bringing everyone down by saying, “I know the prospective client isn’t going to sign with us,” or “We’re definitely going to lose that client,” you know you’re working with a negative coworker.
How to Deal:
When this person raises problems (and you know they will), ask them for more details. Why won’t the client sign? What’s going on there? Press them to fully describe the problem and ask them to provide a solution. She may raise some valid points, so never ignore what they have to say or write them off.
The Overly Competitive Coworker:
Do you remember the person in class who would repeatedly ask for your notes, yet not return the favor if you asked them for help? This is the grownup version of that person. Someone who is overly competitive may try to sabotage other people and throw them under the bus. They will climb over others if it helps them get to the top and they may even try to take credit for your work.
Having a competitive coworker can be an advantage if she is competitive in the right way for their industry such as in law, PR, or sales. Healthy competition in the workplace can even encourage people to work harder. However, it’s a problem if the person is overly competitive with other people at work and doesn’t offer to help. A company is a team and everyone should work together to contribute to the success of the organization…but that doesn’t always happen.
How to Deal:
Competitive coworkers may be insecure leading them to feel threatened by your success. Try to show this person that you want to work with them, not against them. Collaborate with them, but make sure to leave a paper, or carbon copy, trail indicating that you worked on projects. You don’t want him/her to take the credit for your ideas or killer presentation. In the meantime, focus on yourself and doing the best job you can do in the workplace. Don’t be derailed by their competitive nature and don’t try to engage in it. If most of the people in your company are aggressive, consider if this is the type of environment where you will work best. Some people thrive in competitive environments and others don’t.
At the end of the day, you are responsible for getting your work done and it can be problematic for both you as well as the project overall if you can’t.
When people spend time together at work, there is bound to be a grapevine with “the office gossip” at the forefront of it. They want to know everything that’s happening and may divulge information you share with them in confidence to others. This person always wants to be in the know and likes to have a juicy story to share. They may ask you questions under the auspices of being considerate or thoughtful, but deep down they may want to use your answers to undermine you.
How to Deal:
Don’t feed into this person’s questions. They may ask who you dislike at work in a roundabout way like, “So what do you really think of Susan’s presentation?” If this person tries to engage you in gossip about yourself, your manager, or other coworkers, politely leave the conversation. Tell them you’d rather not talk about it or pretend you don’t have any opinions on the subject. Don’t get sucked into the gossip. There is a good chance that this person will share what you said with other people and that can have major ramifications.
Have you ever been the recipient of a mean work email that either made you want to cry, quit, or a combination of both? You may be dealing with an office bully. Unfortunately, bullying doesn’t end after middle school or high school. Bullies can be found in the workplace too. This type of person is downright nasty. She will pick on people, blame others, or tattle when it isn’t necessary to do so. They may be unable to handle confrontational conversations without acting mean and saying something inappropriate.
How to Deal:
If possible, don’t engage with them. If you have to engage with them, hold onto the mean emails you get and note the times where their behavior was truly inappropriate. You may have to schedule a time to speak to HR about the situation.
However, keep in mind that if the bully finds out it was you who brought them up, there is a chance that they may retaliate. If your workplace has multiple bullies (or you have to work with them frequently), you may even want to start looking for another job. Dealing with a bully can be psychologically damaging and being miserable each day may affect your work negatively.
The Work Shirker:
If you’ve ever worked on a group project at school, you know that there is usually someone who pushes off work and tries to get the rest of the team to carry their weight. Unfortunately, this behavior still occurs in the workplace. Someone who pushes off work may ask you to help them or finish their projects, leave before something is finished, or try to get out of the assignment altogether. Coworkers who truly need help should be helped —you’re working as part of a team, after all — but if this person continually tries to get you to “help” AKA “do all of their work” it might be time to push back.
How to Deal:
Speak to them one-on-one and explain the parts of the project you are working on. Show that you need to finish your sections before you can help with another part. At the end of the day, you are responsible for getting your work done and it can be problematic for both you as well as the project overall if you can’t finish because you are busy assisting with someone else’s workload.
Hopefully, these tips help you deal with difficult people at work, but keep in mind that if you find yourself needing to use the “how to (almost) deal” strategies more often than not, it is probably wise to start looking for a new role. Life’s too short to work at a job that is full of (almost) situations.
I originally wrote this for Career Contessa.