You know the type: a co-worker who complains too much, or “forgot” (read: ignored) an assignment, or spends more time sucking up to the boss than getting along with the rest of the staff. No doubt every office has a handful of difficult colleagues, but how you deal with the drama is up to you.
Here are five useful pieces of advice to help you deal with difficult colleagues. After all, you’re together 40+ hours each week, so learning to navigate tough co-workers is a must.
- Passive aggressive much? Don’t take it personally, says career coach Melody Wilding in the Washington Post. Passive aggressive behavior – what Wilding classifies as “indirect, even sometimes sneaky or underhanded way of expressing anger or resentment” – isn’t usually about the recipient. Sometimes individuals fall into the behavior because it’s the only way they think that they can navigate stressful situations or interpersonal relationships. In leadership? Set clear expectation and learn to set boundaries with the perpetrator. Dealing with a peer? Take one for the team and probe the root of the issue – is your colleague feeling underprepared or resentful about a project? Form a joint plan to clear the air and establish a new baseline of trust and collaboration.
- Overcome the bully. And you thought the days of bullying ended in grade school! Unfortunately, not everyone outgrows behavior that intimidates and belittles others. If you’ve ever been yelled at or humiliated by the colleague down the hall, you know how awful it can feel. But don’t play the victim, says the balance. Take cues from how your fellow colleagues react to the office tyrant and ask questions (What makes you say that? Why do you ask?) when the insults come your way. Be careful not to placate the bully so much that you’re considered part of his or her team – there’s a cost to your own office reputation and integrity.
- Handling a know-it-all. Have somebody on the team who fancies themselves an expert, no matter the topic? Daily Worth says the simplest way to handle them is to let them speak first. Nod in agreement and recognize their good points, then suggest your opinion. Maybe they feel under-appreciated or overlooked, and giving them the floor might allow them to get their thoughts on the record and be more receptive to hear other’s thoughts too.
- Don’t engage in office gossip. Few things can be more compelling – and disruptive – than the office rumor mill. Whether the chatter is about cubemate or boss or spouse or frenemy, gossip creates a toxic environment that hurts employee morale and creates distrust. Finance and career website the balance says to manage gossip just as you would other negative office behavior. Whether you confront it head-on by telling the gossip directly that you don’t want to be a part of it, or you take it to HR for manager involvement, you may find that the gossiper backs off when they realize that others don’t appreciate the drama.
- Conquer the idea thief. You and a co-worker brainstorm ideas over lunch, and the next thing you know, you’re hearing your best solution being presented by said co-worker as if they’d come up with it on their own. Whoa! While your first reaction is to jump in and claim the idea as your own, think twice. Instead, the Houston Chronicle suggests confronting the co-worker privately, calling attention to the situation and expressing your concern. Then don’t be afraid to follow up with the group, expanding upon the idea and making it better over time. Careful not to wallow in the offense or turn against the colleague (see: Overcome the Bully), and help encourage their own creative solution building skills while nurturing your own. Your support for your co-worker will be noticed and appreciated.
Getting along in the office does more than just make the work day more pleasant. It positions you for a lifetime of successful collaboration, greater patience and even cherished friendships, as the skills you develop in the workplace can be applied to lots of life situations.
What tips do you have for handling challenging colleagues? Sound off in the comments and share your ideas – or war stories.
Kathryn Hamilton, CAE, is Vice President for Marketing and Communications at NAIOP Corporate.