Co-Workers from Hell: Dealing with Difficult Colleagues

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: January 18, 2012

Do you have a boss who frequently flies off the handle? A co-worker who constantly whines? A sabotaging supervisor? Every workplace and every department has them -- difficult people. Whether these people just "get on your nerves" or are having a serious impact on your success, learning how to deal with challenging people takes skill.

You'll meet 10 difficult personalities in Parts I and II of this article and learn some strategies to help you handle them.

The Bully

Meet Tom Tempestuous. Tom knows that most people dislike conflict and hassle, so his strategy is to throw fits and temper tantrums to get his way. Unfortunately, many bullies get their way because either people fear emotional conflict or they want to avoid the drama and noise.

Managing the Bully

You can't change a bully's personality, but you can change the way you react to his antics. Most bullies count on the fact that you'll run off because you are afraid or bothered, so next time the bully goes off, stand your ground and listen to what the bully is saying without reacting. Not giving the bully the attention he desires will take the wind right out of his sails.

The People Pleaser

Meet Yolanda Yes. Yolanda is pleasant enough to be around, but she hates conflict so much that she has difficulty being straightforward, honest, and open with her co-workers. Her need to please and inability to say “no” inadvertently creates more conflict.

Managing the People Pleaser

When the People Pleaser causes additional conflict, make sure you point it out and make her accountable for the role she played. Be specific concerning the ramifications of her actions. Be sure to point out the good things that happen when the People Pleaser does exhibit honest and open behavior.  

The Know-It-All

Meet Sam Smarty-Pants. Sam has a better solution for everything. Whether it’s a simple idea you’re sharing, or a complex task you’re completing, Sam will want to share -- loudly and with everyone -- how things could be done better. The Know-It-All is driven by his desire to be seen as an expert, and frequently does this by putting others down. 

Managing the Know-It-All

Whether it’s in a private conversation or during a meeting, Know-It-Alls can take up tons of time with their ramblings.

Interrupting the Know-It-All politely and asking him to put his input in writing will accomplish three things: (1) It will save valuable time; (2) It will prevent you from becoming defensive or disagreeable; and (3) It will reveal any trivial nitpicking on the part of the Know-It-All.

The Saboteur

Meet Suzy Schadenfreude. Suzy is dismayed by the positive attention you are receiving from supervisors and co-workers for a project that's going well, so does what she can to sabotage its success.  Saboteurs are generally driven by insecurity, and are afraid that if you succeed, they will be left behind.

Managing the Saboteur

Encourage a team atmosphere, so that the Saboteur feels a part of your success. If the Saboteur does try to thwart your success, don't let it go unnoticed. Point out her behavior, and let her know how her actions have affected you.

The Gossip

Meet Larry Loose Lips. Larry knows everything about everyone -- and he can't wait to share it. Whether it's your co-worker's promotion or your boss's extramarital affair, no topic is off limits.

Managing the Gossip

If the gossip is work-related, listen carefully as it may be important news that has not made it through other channels. If the gossip is personal and inappropriate, change the subject and gently tell the Gossip you are not comfortable hearing -- or discussing -- this topic. Never gossip yourself.

Co-Workers from Hell: Dealing with Difficult Colleagues

Learning to deal with difficult people is key to your workplace happiness and success. In Part II of this article, we'll explore five more difficult personalities and show you how to react to them in a way that significantly diminishes their power -- and impact.

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