They tend to pop up at every workplace; the annoying and lazy, as well as the overachieving and whiny co-workers who make life more difficult with their every move. While you might not be able to do anything about working with them -- barring finding another job -- you can learn some coping skills.
If you’re struggling with multiple difficult personalities at work, try some of these top ten tips for dealing with them.
Watch and listen
Some people are open books, while other people take some time to get to know. Before you brand someone a whiner, a rumor-monger or anything else, take some time to really get to know them. Observe their behavior in social and work situations to get a feel for what makes them tick. Making snap judgements -- or snapping and hurting someone’s feelings -- is not going to help you succeed at work.
If someone makes a comment that seems controversial, continue to reserve judgement. Sometimes, repeating a racist, sexist or other inappropriate comment back to the person who first uttered it can help them see how ridiculous it was. In other cases, asking more questions about what they meant can help those difficult personalities work through their actual intentions and come around to a more middle-of-the-road perspective.
Whatever you do, don’t blow up -- even when that strong personality in your workplace is being especially egregious. Staying calm in the face of ridiculous behaviour will brand you the solid one with good judgement instead of the one with the hot temper.
Pick your battles
Even if you remain calm, not every situation is going to warrant a response. That co-worker who feels the need to spout off about the boss or to poke fun at customers will probably stop when she’s no longer getting the attention she craves. If you must point out a co-worker’s faults, do it when she’s doing something illegal, unethical, or irresponsible that could really hurt the business.
Use “I feel” language
When that pessimistic co-worker brings you down or disrupts productivity yet again and it’s finally time to talk to her about it, use “I” language, so often recommended for fostering healthy relationships. Say “I feel” or “I’m concerned” instead of the more accusatory “you always do this” thing.
Compliment before you critique
Another helpful exercise is to sandwich your critiques of a person inside a few compliments. Tell your co-worker how you like how he does a certain part of his job before you tell him how he could improve. At the end of your statement, reiterate your confidence in him. This can help smooth things over with even the most difficult of co-workers.
Put your head down and get to work
In the end, let someone else -- probably your boss or superiors -- to dole out raises or promotions, all the time assessing the annoying, unproductive, or downright difficult employees happen to be. Try to spend more of your energy focusing on the tasks that are relevant to your job instead of on what someone else is doing, and chances are you’ll be remembered as the hard worker instead of the complainer.
Don’t be the office gossip
Your relationships with co-workers are not going to get better by talking about them behind their backs with other co-workers. That information could get back to them, and that’s not going to be good for your career. Avoiding being the office gossip has a myriad of other benefits, including reducing the risk of being the subject of other people’s gossip.
Sound off when you’re off the job
If you really need to sound off about your lazy, mean, gossipy or otherwise difficult co-workers, choose a safe person with whom to do it. Namely, choose someone who’s not affiliated with your workplace. Your spouse is naturally the first option, but avoid overburdening him or her with every little gripe.
Find ways to unplug on the job
Studies have shown that taking small breaks throughout the day can actually improve your concentration -- not to mention helping you disengage from your most challenging of co-workers. Whether it’s going for a walk or taking lunch outside the office, don’t feel guilty about unplugging for a period of time each day.
Your co-worker relationships might not always be perfect, but by changing your thinking and finding meaningful ways to manage it, you can still be productive and happy at work.