How To Deal (And Work With) Difficult Colleagues In The Office

Working up to 40 hours per week means that you spend more time with your colleagues than with your family and friends. And while it’s possible to choose where you work, it’s not always possible to choose who works with you. For the most part, everyone gets along, and you could even call your colleagues friends, but there is always one! The boss, a colleague or a manager whose ‘quirks’ you struggle to handle. Here are some tools to help you deal with difficult work colleagues, while keeping your sanity and maintaining your professional performance.

Health Warning

Never attempt to change somebody else’s behaviour. The only person you have control over is you. Frustrating as it is, it is also a fact. Using your communication skills effectively and managing your reaction to their behaviour is your only choice. Trying to change somebody who doesn’t realise the impact of their behaviour, who doesn’t want to change, or who doesn’t care is a waste of your time and energy. Instead, focus on what is within your control – you.

The Interrupter

The person who is quick to take the floor when somebody else is talking, doesn’t let them finish and proceeds to talk. Deeply frustrating, downright rude and counterproductive, the chronic interrupter is difficult to deal with.

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  • Pick your battles. Infuriating as it might be, sometimes it is best to just let it go.
  • If what you are saying is important and needs to be heard, swiftly say ‘Thank you, I’ll come back to you in a second’ and keep talking.
  • Turn the spotlight back onto them. Once they have finished, ask him/her to expand, or pick on something specific to explore. If your interrupter has a habit of making ‘noise’ rather than adding value, this quietens them down pretty quickly.
  • Be direct, firm and polite. When the interrupter jumps in, hold your hand up and say ‘John, just a second, let me finish and then I’ll come back to you.’ It takes a little more courage but it is almost immediately effective.

The Perfectionist

The person who nitpicks and loves detail, the perfectionist is often critical. They set very high expectations for themselves and others. While every organization needs a perfectionist, they are often challenging to deal with.

  • When possible, provide as much detail as possible to him/her, which reduces ambiguity and eases tension.
  • When your colleague asks questions that delve into the deepest of detail, view it as professional rigour and not a personal attack. Although a painful process it ensures high standards and lessens the likelihood of mistakes.
  • At the start of your meeting set time boundaries by saying that you have to finish up within two hours or by home-time. Explain that you can regroup later/tomorrow. For the most part, people appreciate the clarity and openness.

The Credit Takers

Sitting in a meeting, your co-worker/boss begins to speak. The idea you hear is your idea, you developed it together but your co-worker/boss grabs the limelight and accepts all the praise without a mention of you. It feels wrong, unfair, inappropriate and is very upsetting.

  • Take time to calm down. When you have recalibrated, stand up for yourself in a non-confrontational way. The sooner you take action the better. Open up a conversation and detail specifically how you will progress on the project together. Work out a schedule that ensures your name is included on emails, in correspondence, on decks, etc.
  • Future-proof your idea generation process by sharing your ideas in groups only. Never share ideas with the office credit taker when it is just the two of you. Ask for copies of the deck before meetings, and ensure that you are always included in the email trail.
  • If this doesn’t work, at the end of the credit taker’s ‘speech’ clearly assert your role by saying ‘I really enjoyed working on and developing this idea with John, the section on X was really challenging and engaging…’ and continue to add your voice to the idea. In that moment you publically become a co-owner of the idea.
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Dealing with difficult workplace personalities requires time and patience. But the more you learn how to handle these different personas, the better you will be able to thrive and begin to design your own version of success.

Next week, in part two we will discuss how to deal with The Non-Responder, The Insulter, The Quicksander and The Workplace Jekyll & Hyde.

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