Difficult coworkers

Oct 24th, 2011 | By | Category: career challenges, difficult coworkers

This week I responded to several question on Yahoo Answers.com regarding problems with difficult coworkers. The problems range to from mild irritations to potentially damaging situations.

One of the key concepts to keep in mind is everyone in the workplace is there to make a living and get ahead as best they can. That is not to say that we cannot be friends with coworkers. Some of my best friends were once coworkers. We looked out for each other and helped one another out when needed.

The difficult coworker is one who is either competing with you on some level, or perhaps has a personal reason for not wanting to be friends. The most dangerous of the difficult coworkers are those who are friendly to your face and do as much damage to you as possible when your back is turned. Often you will not find out their true intentions until the damage is done.

Over the years I have met several types of difficult coworkers. Each type brings their own set of problems. There are probably more subdivisions but I have selected the top 5, which I think are the most common.

1. The super competitive coworker. This is the guy who always has to be ahead of everyone else. Either by claiming to: be the smartest on every topic, do more work than anyone else, help everyone else out when they have a problem, and be the most out spoken at meetings.
2. The self-elected leader. This is the coworker who always acts as if he is in charge, usually trying to tell others what to do, and taking credit for getting the job done. They usually do not have any official authority but bully other coworkers to acquiesce.
3. The Victim This is the person who believes they have been cheated out of a promotion or status and look for support from their coworkers. By agreeing with the victim you are involuntarily becoming a tacit supporter. The victim will not hesitate to tell everyone who will listen how they have been mistreated and how much you support their claim.
4. The self promoter It is my firm belief that we all have to learn the art of self promotion, but it should not be at the expense of your coworkers. The self promoter usually use a lot of tricks and tactics to ensure they put across the idea that they are the most capable person in the room. One of my favorite examples is: When someone finishes giving a report, no matter how complete, the self promoter will make a remark to the effect, that is almost right, and add something that may be totally irrelevant. Everyone has a tendency to let these assertions go unchallenged and loose credit for all the work they did.
5. The best friend Over the years I think I have heard just about every use of the term best friend. Some of my coworkers have told me that if I was their best friend, I would not apply for a promotion they wanted. If I was their best friend, I would take their side against the boss. The list is endless. In every case it calls for you to make a career sacrifice based on a friendship. If they were your best friend they would not ask.

The tactics, strategies and counter measures to neutralize the effects of difficult coworkers are similar for each of the 5 types.

1,Maintain a friendly appearance: It is essential to keep a very positive and friendly attitude regardless of how irritating a difficult coworker may be. If you cannot manage a smile and a civil remark, like “good morning” avoid them as much as possible. Others in the office are eager to pick up and pass along gossip of a feud in the office.
2. Don’t let a challenge go unanswered: Silence is interpreted as acceptance. Think before you speak, but do not let the claims and accusations of difficult coworkers go unchallenged. When someone takes credit for your work, tries to take away the completeness of your reports, or tries to exert leadership they don’t have, challenge them in a very professional way. For example, when someone tries the old “Your report is good as far as it goes, and throws in some irrelevant comment or fact, or something they say is their personal experience, I often thank them for their anecdotal information, and ask if there is a confirming reference or site they could furnish. If they say they “lets take it offline and I’ll help you fix it.” I usually say if you give me the source now, I will be more than happy to do the research.
3. Do not accept condescending behavior. When a difficult coworker starts talking for you or speaking in condescending tones, it is important to put a stop to it immediately. If you can come back with something humors and make a joke of it, that is the best way to counteract condescending behavior. Again if you remain silent it is tacit agreement.
4. Be as independent as possible. In this era of teams and teamwork it is not always easy to demonstrate your independence. However the more you have to ask a difficult coworker for help the more you are feeding their egos and giving them ammunition to use against you. There is nothing worse to hear at a meeting than “Gee, I don’t know how I am supposed to get my work done when I spend all my time helping Sally.”
5. Learn from the best. The best way to learn to counter act a difficult coworker is watch how the pros do it. In my experience there were a few of my coworkers or managers that were exceptionally good at managing their relationships with their coworkers and staff. I am sure they put a lot of effort into developing their techniques, but it really paid off for them. I have seen difficult coworker put in their place and totally disarmed, with such ease and grace that they hardly knew what hit them. Listen, watch and learn. It is perfectly ok to copy someone else’s successful tactics and strategies.

Once you start to develop your tactics and strategies for dealing with difficult coworkers it will become second nature. Usually it only takes a couple of successful pushback’s for a difficult coworker to look for a easier target. Even if you curtail the frontal assaults, you must remain vigilant for the covert attacks, which will most likely increase.

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