In every office environment, there’s always at least one difficult coworker. Whether they’re a chronic complainer or they’re offensively sarcastic, they can often be compared to a black cloud that simply dampens your mood.
And although avoiding them may seem like the best solution, sometimes it’s just impossible – especially when you work in a small department. So, how do you stop the problematic colleague from affecting your workday?
To help you survive in such a tough environment, we’ve compiled a list of the most common types of challenging coworkers, along with tips on how to deal with each one.
1. The Boss Hater
We all know who I’m talking about: the one who keeps undermining the boss at every opportunity, disregarding their instructions and doing just whatever the hell they want. They’re always talking about the boss behind their back but would never dare say anything in front of their face – and then they give you that eyeroll as if you, too, feel the same way about the manager.
Solution: Although their behaviour probably doesn’t affect you directly, they can still make you feel uncomfortable, especially when they try to engage in conversation with you as you just know the subject of your boss will come up sooner or later. When this does happen, simply say something like: ‘That’s your personal opinion but I’d prefer not to be involved in this kind of conversation, so can we please talk about something else?’
2. The Star
They’re the star employee – and, boy, do they know it? They undermine any ideas that aren’t their own and they constantly disrupt team meetings to share their opinions (which, of course, are better than anyone else’s). Although this kind of key employee is essential in any company, their bad attitude can quickly drive you to hopelessness.
Solution: There are two main ways you can deal with a know-it-all. The first is to actually go against their ideas, so be prepared to fight fire with fire. The second is to convince them that your ideas are actually theirs – this means you’ll likely lose credit for your work but will be able to work in a way that suits you.
3. The Slider
Simply put, they suck. They always appear to be busy but never actually are – instead, they fob off their work to their colleagues and then reap all the rewards. They’re usually likeable and charming, and they know how to act the part. They often stay late so it looks like they have a lot to do when they’ve actually spent all day talking to their friends or reading the news online. And by the time the boss finally checks in on them, they’ve buckled down to at least complete one task on their list.
Solution: It’s hard to navigate around the Slider. If you call them out, for example, you’ll not only need concrete evidence to prove your point, but you’ll also end up branding yourself as a snitch – effectively making you the most unpopular person in the office. Instead, when they try to pass their work on to you, be blunt and simply tell them that you have your own list of priorities but will be happy to offer your advice on a certain part of a project.
4. The Pity Party
These are the people who always have a tragic excuse for their behaviour and who are always trying to bend the rules by pulling on your heartstrings. They’ll tell you that a close family member is sick, they’re suffering from a terrible headache, they have unreliable childcare or their arm/elbow/leg/back hurts – anything to get out of work. Although people do need to take time off work for personal reasons, this type of coworker is a master at abusing the sympathy of others.
Solution: The next time they ask you to finish their report because they need to run out and collect their kids from schools, politely tell them that you can’t because you’ve got a deadline that’s fast approaching. Do this a couple of times and they’ll, hopefully, stop asking you for ‘help’.
5. The Self-Promoter
Self-promoters are sneaky creatures and will throw you under the bus without hesitation if it means getting ahead. They’ll become BFFs with the boss to make sure they get special treatment and are next in line for a promotion – even if someone else is more deserving and better qualified. When they do bag the position they wanted, they’ll quickly start falling behind as there’s no one around willing to help.
Solution: It’s best to watch your own back in this type of situation and to CC your boss in every email exchange you have with the self-promoter so they’re aware of what’s going on. Other than that, sit back and watch them crumble when they can’t take credit for anyone’s work anymore.
6. The Nitpicker
Otherwise known as perfectionists, they aren’t necessarily bad – but they can still be annoying, nonetheless. They usually have a great work ethic but will pick at every little thing from indentation to font size. They take the lead on projects and dictate what part of the project you should handle and how you should go about completing it – leaving you with absolutely no control or the ability to use your creativity.
Solution: When dealing with a nitpicker, you need to make them feel like they’re actually helpful (even when they aren’t). Say something like: ‘Your comments are really useful. Now that you’ve given me all the information I need, I’d like to get on with my side of the project so we can finish in time. If I do have any questions, I’ll be sure to ask you. Thank you for your help!’
7. The Non-Responder
Do you work with someone who’s always hard to track down? Like Barry in accounts, for example, who constantly ignores your emails and is never at his desk when you pop by. He’ll do what you’ve asked him to do, but he’ll never let you know he’s done it.
Solution: Next time you catch Barry in the communal kitchen, call him out on his poor communication. You could say something like: ‘Hey Barry, I’ve been trying to get hold on you on [x project] to make sure you received my email and paid [x client]. Going forward, I’d appreciate it if you sent me a quick note to let me know it’s been actioned so I can tick it off my list’.
8. The Gossiper
Ah, the office gossiper: the person who plays office politics well, spreads rumours and knows all the latest dirt about each and every person in the office. They’re usually a lot of fun, but they’ll quickly run their mouth talking about you, to you and occasionally with you, and they can be a huge disturbance if you don’t set boundaries from the get-go.
Solution: If you find that the busybody is offloading to you on a daily basis, it’s time to set some obvious boundaries. You can do this in one of two ways: first, by simply closing your office door or putting on your headphones (or anything else that will make you look busy) or second, by simply being upfront and telling them you’re not a fan of workplace gossip. This may turn them against you, though!
9. The Negative Nancy
There’s always one negative Nancy in every office: they’re distinguishable from their bad attitude, resting b*tch face and pessimism about everything. Even if you’re given complementary lunch, they’ll simply complain that it’s not fresh enough!
Solution: The only way to deal with a negative Nancy is to avoid them at all costs. If they’re in the kitchen when you’re making a drink, be quick and get out – you don’t want to find yourself trapped in an endless conversation with them about how ‘sh*t’ everything is.
10. The Victim
Some workers are incapable of owning up to their mistakes and will always play the victim. The never sent out that report to the boss? Someone must have sabotaged their computer. The company newsletter is riddled with typos? It must be the spellchecker’s fault. They always have an excuse for everything, blaming anything and anyone but themselves.
Solution: If you can help it, avoid getting paired with them on work projects. After all, you know who’s going to get the blame if things go south: you! Alternatively, if this happens, you can simply own up to your mistakes, showing them that it’s really not the end of the world. What’s important is that you rectify them.
11. The Competitor
A bit of competition is healthy in the workplace, but when your colleague starts staying two hours late every day just to beat your call time, you know something’s wrong. If they’re being a little too aggressive and it’s making you feel uneasy, you need to something about it – and fast!
Solution: The best coping method is to just simply avoid engaging in any form of competition with them. Essentially, just let them ‘beat’ you – stay focused on your work and don’t let them think that you’re competing with them in any kind of way. They’ll soon give up when they know you’re not playing!
12. The Belittler
This kind of colleague has a knack for knocking your entire confidence, and making you feel tiny and disposable. They make you feel stupid by saying derogatory comments, shouting at you and constantly trying to prove you wrong.
Solution: When you’re dealing with a belittler, you need to stand your ground and show them that you’re strong. If this person is your supervisor or boss, it might be best to start looking for a new job.
Toxic coworkers can be hard to handle, but if you can grit your teeth and get through the workday without biting back, you’re already heading towards a good coping strategy. If these methods still fail, you can consider taking it further and speaking to your boss about the situation.
Are you currently dealing with a difficult coworker? Join the conversation below to let us know which category they fall into and what your coping strategy is. And if you’ve dealt with one of these toxic colleagues in the past, tell us how you survived!