The people you work with can have a major impact on the way you feel about your job. Your relationships with your coworkers can elevate your day and your mood — or they can bring you way down.
You’ll connect with some coworkers better than others. That’s perfectly normal. You’ll make friends at work, which is a wonderful thing. And, you’ll also meet a host of difficult, challenging or otherwise annoying coworkers. Some of these folks can really get in your way — or at least on your nerves — if you aren’t careful. So, it’s a good idea to think about how to work with them effectively.
Here are some tips for dealing with some of the more interesting characters you could meet along the way:
1. The Teammate Who Acts like the boss
Some coworkers act more like your boss than your peer. They tell you what to do, issuing directions and corrections without solicitation from you. Maybe they even take it upon themselves to divide up projects and teams without consulting anyone about their preferences.
These coworkers often end up doing themselves in. So, if you just wait a little while, you might find your problem simply goes away — literally. However, there are lots of ways to deal with a coworker who acts more like your boss in the moment.
Let your coworker know how you feel. You’re equals, so don’t be intimidated. Tell him your preferences when he tries to forge ahead without consulting you. And, let him know that you’ll ask for his advice if you want it. Be polite but direct.
If the problem still persists, you may even consider talking with your actual boss about the matter. You don’t have to make a big deal about it — simply explain that a few aspects of the group’s dynamics are a little challenging and discuss how you’ve already tried to remedy the problem yourself. You might get some good suggestions about how best to proceed.
2. The One Who Always needs your help
Coworkers ought to help each other out once in a while, of course. But, there is a big difference between that and covering for some else’s incompetence.
A coworker who is perpetually badgering you for help can really drain your time and energy. These folks don’t just ask for your assistance once in a while. With them, it’s a regular event. In fact, they don’t seem to think twice about swinging by your desk with “a quick question” multiple times per week.
You might start by trying to send this coworker some subtle hints that show you’re beginning to resent all of the time you’re spending coming to his aid. Be a bit shorter with your answers, for example. Take a little longer to respond to his requests than you might otherwise. And, there’s no reason to tell him that “it’s not a problem” when it actually is — so, be careful what you say.
However, these vague social cues don’t always work the way you might hope. So, prepare to be a little more direct. You might have to tell your coworker, straight up, that you “just don’t have time to help right now.” Then, do it again. Eventually, your coworker will find another alternative if you aren’t coming through.
3. The gossiper
A little office gossiping is bound to happen once in a while. It’s only natural when people work closely together. In fact, a bit of gossip isn’t really so bad. It can be bonding and even productive.
But, some coworkers take gossiping (about the boss, other coworkers, clients…) way too far. They can bring the mood of the whole office down. No one wants to be whispered about behind their backs. Gossiping at work can be divisive and degrade trust and morale.
So, resist the temptation to engage in petty gossip yourself. Remind yourself that gossiping too much will hurt your relationships at work, not help them, and step back. Setting a good example is one of the best things you can do to curtail office gossip.
4. The Eeyore
There’s something extra awful about a consistently negative coworker. We all have bad days but some people take it to a whole other level.
When a coworker complains, it can have a real impact on the people around them. You might find yourself chiming in, especially if you’re an empathetic person. This comes from a natural impulse to help. But, it can cause the same tense and negative feelings to arise in you.
Even if they don’t talk about work, a negative coworker can be a real drag. Maybe they vent about personal matters all the time. Or, they just have a really terrible attitude that isn’t fun to be around.
Negativity can be really toxic. Thankfully, there are lots of good ways to counter the effects of an especially negative coworker. Keep your distance; never reward the behavior with your attention. It’s nice to be kind to someone when they’re having a bad day, but you shouldn’t spend too much of your time and energy on it when it’s a regular occurrence.
Finally, be positive in spite of their moods and behavior. You’ll be demonstrating a better way rather than stooping to their level.
5. The old pal
Having friends at work can do wonders for your career. It can help you to enjoy your job while also aiding you in expanding your professional network. But, these friendships don’t always progress the way you think they will. Sometimes, after getting to know someone a little better, you can end up feeling as though you actually don’t want to be friends after all. Perhaps it turns out that your values are wildly different, for example.
Another thing that can happen is that you end up working with an old friend, who maybe you’d rather leave in the past, by coincidence. Or, you might also find yourself employed alongside someone you used to date. This can come with all kinds of complications.
Sometimes, for one reason or another, you find yourself really wanting to get some distance from someone that you work with fairly closely. Obviously, this isn’t easy — but it is possible.
In order to get space, it’s essential that you always keep your goal in mind. Otherwise, you could end up slipping into old patterns without even realizing it. Establish boundaries and stick to them if you really want to maintain distance.
Keep your conversations strictly professional. Don’t talk about your personal life and don’t indulge in conversations about theirs either if they surface. You’ll send a clear message about what you’re looking for from the relationship when you’re consistent about this.
6. The ceaseless talker
One of the most difficult things about working in an office are the distractions. This can be especially challenging if you work in a cubicle or in any kind of open office. It generally isn’t the background din that’s the most irritating though, it’s when one voice rises above the crowd.
“…new research shows that it may not be the sound itself that distracts us…it may be who is making it,” writes David Burkus, Associate Professor of Leadership and Innovation at Oral Roberts University, at Harvard Business Review. “In fact, some level of office banter in the background might actually benefit our ability to do creative tasks, provided we don’t get drawn into the conversation. Instead of total silence, the ideal work environment for creative work has a little bit of background noise. That’s why you might focus really well in a noisy coffee shop, but barely be able to concentrate in a noisy office.”
Most of the conversation can comfortably fall into the background. But, sometimes an especially chatty coworker just won’t take the hint. They’ll interrupt you when you’re in the middle of something and then, they won’t wrap it up. They go on and on and just won’t stop talking.
In these situations, you often have to be direct. Tell the person that you have to get back to your work. There’s no use in waiting for them to stop talking. You might just need to interrupt. It might feel rude but someone who talks incessantly is probably pretty used to being interrupted.
Finally, get some physical distance from this coworker if you can if the problem persists. If they sit close to you, there might be a way to negotiate a different arrangement. Or, you might even try asking for a more flexible working arrangement. Explain to the higher-ups that you’d be more effective if you worked from home. Even just one day a week could make a big difference.
7. The Coworker Who Takes all the credit
When you’re an honest and ethical person, other people’s actions can really take you by surprise. You’d probably never dream of taking credit for work that wasn’t yours. But, that’s not true for everyone.
Some coworkers will do just about anything to impress the boss in an attempt to get ahead. They’ll take credit for a team’s work, for your idea, or for anything else they think might work to their advantage. If you find yourself working with someone like this, it can be really frustrating.
Don’t waste any time correcting the situation. Set the record straight right away. Be calm but direct. State that you collaborated on this project, or that the idea was yours but that you’re glad your coworker is excited about it. You also might want to consider following up with your colleague privately about the incident. Explain that it confused you but that you’re glad you were able to clarify the situation.
It’s possible that your coworker behaves this way in part because no one has ever challenged them. If you do so, you might be surprised at how quickly the problem resolves.
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