How to get along with difficult co-workers
Learn the right way to approach challenging colleagues for a better work week.
Mon, Aug 29 2011 at 3:18 PM
No matter how lovely most of your co-workers are, there are always a few personality types that tend to bring down office morale. But you don't have to let Mrs. Stress-y Pants or The "No" Man make your nine-to-five life miserable. Below, our experts' tips on how to deal with the most annoying workplace dispositions in order to have a less stressful work day.
The Spotlight Stealer
You're right in the middle of announcing to the team that you scored a new client when The Spotlight Stealer brings the attention of the group where she prefers it: back on her. When she interrupts your big news with her own, simply keep calm and continue with what you were saying after she runs out of steam, suggests Samantha DiGennaro, founder of DiGennaro Communications, a strategic public relations agency specializing in business communications. You can also lead by example by commending the entire team — "Client X signed on with our group" — instead of taking all the credit with a first-person statement, such as "I wrangled Client X into signing on." Lastly, it can help to encourage the non-self-promoters to speak up, so The Spotlight Stealer doesn't get to play "the hero" every time.
The Office Lingerer
As much as you appreciate your company's open-door policy, when The Office Lingerer stops by to ask a question, then settles in and starts telling you all about his day, it's so frustrating you wish you could put a lock on your door. New York City-based Executive Recruiter Patricia H. Lenkov asks what's on all of our minds: "How is it that he has so much free time on his hands?!" Regardless of how he spends his time, make it clear that yours is precious. As soon as he swings by, announce a "hard stop": "What's up, Sam? I have a call in five minutes." Before he gets too comfy, remind him, "That call is in two minutes, so we need to wrap this up."
Mrs. Stress-y Pants
For Mrs. Stress-y Pants, everything is a major ordeal: filling out her timesheet, planning a meeting, deciding which restaurant to order lunch from — you name it. Though you can't control her actions, you can control your reactions, says human resources expert Cy Wakeman, author of "Reality-Based Leadership." Ask her calmly whether you can help. If she's too flustered to accept your assistance, try to explain that she's making the situation seem more stressful than it is. Wakeman recommends asking her questions, like "What are you believing in this moment?" and "What are the facts?" Hopefully she'll start to see that the reality of what's going on isn't as bad as she's making it out to be. But, if it seems like you can't add immediate value to her problem-solving or that she might boil over any minute, simply walk away and move on with your day.
The "No" Man
Forget about adding your two cents to the conversation, The "No" Man doesn't want to hear your strategy ideas or consider a more modern email platform; if you ask him to do anything outside of the status quo, you already know the answer. Don't get caught up in his negativity, warns business expert Andrea Nierenberg, president of The Nierenberg Group, a business communications company that aims to improve employee and client relationships. Start conversations by letting him speak first and asking open-ended questions: "Andy, what do you like about our current email platform?" This should start a dialogue in which you can offer an alternative. When he (predictably) bristles at the idea of something new, ask him to come up with a solution, so the conversation becomes about what you can do instead of what you can't.
Miss No Manners
Maybe you can hear her chewing (or chomping gum or playing music) through the cubicle wall, or perhaps she cooks smelly foods in the office microwave and leaves sloppy leftovers in the shared fridge — whatever workplace etiquette rules you swear by, Miss No Manners is likely to break them. If you're comfortable speaking up, it's completely appropriate to ask her to stop her annoying behavior, says Lenkov. However, if you're not her superior, she may view your request as confrontational. Other options: Speak with the office manager or an office administrator, urges Lenkov, or suggest your superior send an office-wide email reminding everyone to observe and respect the company's code of conduct.
Though you like to get to the office a little early so you can settle in before all the emails start flooding your inbox, The Slacker always rolls in late, leaves early and takes an extra-long lunch. Unfortunately, this means you get less done because you're constantly waiting for her to be available. Develop a rapport with her, suggests Susan Zeidman, a portfolio manager at American Management Association who is responsible for many of her company's communications and management training programs. If she only makes herself available on a limited basis, you want to be someone she wants to see. If you're collaborating on a project, try to come to some agreement about availability without criticizing her. Once you've worked out a plan together, share your plan via email with your boss or the rest of your team members so that she'll be held accountable if deadlines are missed.
The Old Timer
Talk about a generation gap: At first, you found it endearing when The Old Timer called you "doll," but when he started asking you to send a fax or set-up a meeting — even though you're not his subordinate — you grew tired of his "Mad Men"-esque ways. Determine why his behavior bothers you, says Michelle Tillis Lederman, author of "The 11 Laws of Likability." Is using nicknames (albeit borderline-insulting ones) part of the office culture? How would he react if you said, "Sure, sweet-cheeks. I'll fax this if you grab my coffee?" Sometimes it's easier to overlook ignorance when there's no evil intent behind it. However, if he is trying to "put you in your place," stand your ground. Instead of doing his grunt work, offer to show him how it's done so he can do it himself next time.
The Finger Pointer
Whether a deadline's been missed or a job's been botched, The Finger Pointer is the first to announce exactly who's to blame: anyone but her. For this personality type, communication is key, says Drew Stevens, who works with senior officers and managers to accelerate workplace productivity. Having a collaborative culture is good, but when you start a project, be very clear from the get-go about who's responsible for what. Decide as a group who will tackle each task, then circulate an email that clearly outlines what's expected of each group member, remembering to CC your boss. This way, should something go awry, everyone will know who is at fault.
This article is reprinted with permission from WomansDay.com.
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