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Difficult People Make Difficult Colleagues!

15 May 2015

Jealous, pushy, bullying, tantrumy, plain lazy, these could be all descriptors of your co-worker and they can make your working life extremely difficult.

There are many factors that are spoken about when we talk of workplace stress like skills sets, work satisfaction, types of leadership to name a few. However, interpersonal issues gets short changed as business is considered a matter of skills and analytics and results. Ironically, at the end of the day it is people who are supposed to get the results and quality of interpersonal relationships hugely affects work success.

At any workplace, co-workers spend a huge amount of time together both professionally and outside work. Personally, I have thrived when I have been surrounded with positive, inspiring, supportive colleagues and have enjoyed my work even more! But I have not done so well when I have had colleagues who have been excessively competitive, acted superior, thrown tantrums when things haven’t gone their way, have not done their share of work or gossiped about me. You may find yourself working with someone who calls in sick whenever there is an important deadline, or has the inevitable problem at home and you find yourself doing all the work repeatedly till you feel so exhausted that you want to call it quits! You may be losing your peace of mind, spend many waking hours thinking about this person and talking about them with friends but at the same time feel like you can do nothing about it. You keep wondering how these people come out without a scratch whereas you end up looking bad and eventually begin to lose faith in the fairness of the workplace and the system. There is nothing tougher than working in a team and having a team destroyer!

Workplace-A salad-bowl of personalities

A workplace has a great representation of different personality styles. A given office may have people with pretty much the same training or skill set but it definitely is a salad bowl of different personality styles all thrown in together to get along and work along! And this is great because every style brings its own unique flavour and contributes to workplace success, like some are good at envisioning the big picture while others are extremely detail oriented. But there may be certain personality styles and traits that cause problems for others and this could be more damaging in a workplace where your performance and results are constantly under scrutiny.

Below is a list of problematic personality traits that you may encounter.

Self-centred, thinks the world revolves around them and they are always right

Insecure and extremely competitive, given to professional jealousy due to the same

Extremely suspicious and complaining of things being unfair and unjust

Explosive with little control over anger

Dramatic and shallow, always needs to be in the centre of attention

Avoidant of authority, afraid to make decisions, refuse to take risks

Manipulative and charming, self assured, ready to make false promises to get what they want, lack of guilt and remorse for their behaviour


Did you feel that one of the descriptors or a combination shout aloud about a colleague of yours? It can be extremely stressful if someone with a problematic personality trait is in a position of power or seniority. You may think, ‘why can’t they see how pushy they are, or how selfish they are’ but those with dysfunctional traits are rarely aware of the effect their behaviour has on others. 

Difficult people make for difficult colleagues: So if you’re having problems with a colleague and feel frustrated, it’s obvious that can’t figure how to deal with them. You can chose to react angrily, not do anything about it or learn effective ways to deal with them. It is obvious that learning how to deal with them is the best possible option. Simply changing your own attitude isn’t enough.  Falling into the trap where you begin to question whether you are good enough is the wrong path to traverse. You need to be calm and objective and get some distance from the situation and think about what the ideal outcome would be for you. It is important not to be judgmental and use blame and criticism. Things between you and your colleague may not change overnight but it's worth persevering.

Draw boundaries: The time to deal with a difficult colleague is early on, with a combination of politeness, firmness, and limit setting.  You need to point out transgression of boundaries right when it happens. If someone addresses you in a derogatory manner or belittles whether alone or in front of others, don’t be afraid to correct it right when it happens. Immediate correction works the best! This will tell the bully or bossy colleague that you are not intimidated and will not take it. Remember to be consistent as setting limits may in fact increase the tantrums and you have to repeatedly reinstate the boundaries.

Don’t take it personally: It’s hard not to take thing personally if something hurtful is aimed at you. However, it may help to remember that the person would treat anyone in your position similarly and their behaviour is because of their problematic personality trait. It will be much easier on your mental health to imagine that most oversights come from forgetfulness, indifference, narcissism, unresolved control issues or incompetence. You don’t have to rationalize hurtful behaviour or even understand why it is happening but not taking it personally will help you stay calm and not get angry and emotionally charged.

Focus on your work and your work only: Whether it is the one who is shirking work or the one who tries to steal the limelight and put your work down, remain focussed and continue to perform. It is important that you don’t pull your hands out or become cynical. Keep performing and even over performing and sooner or later it will be evident who is the team worker and the one for the long haul. Don’t feel shy of mentioning your role in a project or your contributions. Don’t tell yourself “it doesn’t matter” as very soon it is going to begin to matter to you. The same goes when it is someone who is always negative about everything. Repeatedly listening to complaints about the boss, the work place, the work may sap you of your creative energies and lower your performance. Remain focused on your work and tell the person how their negative talk is affecting you. Listen to them and give them suggestions to solve their issues and if this doesn’t help and the negative talk continues, maintain distance for some time to get them out of your head.

Choose your project partners well: If you have a colleague who is the hypercompetitive type, do not enlist their help even if they are really smart. They will have only their own welfare in mind as they are not team players. Instead of working together, they will be busy running your ideas down and stealing the limelight. In case you have been put on a project with a difficult colleague by your boss, try to keep a clear log of your work divisions and discussions. Later if there is any confusion about who did or did not do their part, you can look for details in the log. Any behaviour that makes it difficult to progress on the project should be brought up in a joint discussion with the boss. You should tell your colleague beforehand that you would be raising the particular issue as it is impeding progress.

Spot the ones who have a personality disorder: The ones who have the more severe personality dysfunction are going to cause you more headaches but it may take some time to spot them. They may be the ones who charm you easily, are extremely articulate and almost overconfident. They may be very intelligent. Over time you may find that the confidence has turned into bossiness, the charm has changed into intimidation and the friendliness has turned into professional jealousy. You may agonize as to what happened, what changed? But remember, there is nothing you can do except find emotional distance. DO not confide in them as they may try to turn it around on you and make you believe that you are one with the competitiveness and the jealousy. These people require professional help and the management team may want to refer them to a professional to work on their dysfunctional personality style.

Learn to say ‘No’: The slackers feast off those who can’t say “No”. ‘Can you please help me finish my work as I have to take my wife to the doctor,’ ‘my father is ill and I cannot stay back to make the power point for the presentation. Can you please do it yourself?’ It may not be the first time that you have heard this list of problems and it is important to learn to say no if it begins to happen repeatedly. Tell the person that your hands are full too and why don’t they ask the boss for more time or help. 

Overcome your fear of confrontation: Many a times you need to exercise professional courage to sort out an issue with a colleague. Direct communication allows for a better chance to clear the air and gives the other person a chance to rectify the situation instead of letting it fester. There is no point in having endless conversations in your head and ruminating.  If your colleague tries to take credit for work that you have jointly done, communicate this directly to the person without justifying why you need to talk about it. Also do not blame or talk about what is right and what is wrong. Simply say that you wish to get the credit for work that you have done. Listen to what the person has to say and make it clear that you wish your name to feature in future.

There might be a scenario where all your attempts to deal with the colleague fails. In that case utilize the option of approaching the management. You may discuss the situation with other experienced colleagues but remember not to gossip about it. In case you feel extremely upset, angry and anxious and discussing it with colleagues does not help, remember that you can always seek help from a counsellor to gain perspective on the situation and also learn to cope better emotionally.

Effective work relationships form the cornerstone for success and satisfaction with your job and your career. As we talk about difficult co-workers, make sure that you yourself are an effective communicator, use the right verbal and non verbal language, treat your colleagues with respect, encourage and motivate your co-workers and share credit. You are more likely to be valued by your co-workers and they will support you in times of professional and personal difficulties.

If work-place politics and bullying has affected you negatively and you are feeling choked or low then Just type your message in the green chat button to confidentially and privately connect with a certified ePsyClinic psychologist 



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