We all have them. Here are our least-favourite five, and ways to deal.
Negative Nancy, Olive the Over-Sharer, Suzi the CC-er, Delegating-Do-Nothing-Himself Denis and Simon the Saboteur… feel free to add your own personal alliterative coworker from hell. They can ruin morale and destroy the enjoyment you should be getting out of your work. Not to mention the real possibility that the Sabotaging Simons of this world may be out to ruin your career too.
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But none of them is going anywhere today or tomorrow. Rather than crying with irritation in the loo and sticking pins into a voodoo doll (don’t do these things at the same time – tears can affect your aim), your time would be better spent if you can see them as an opportunity to hone your people-management skills.
What is the ultimate goal of a good manager? To get your team members to WANT to give you what you need. To get there, it’s essential that you acknowledge that for every member of the team a different form of motivation is required. It’s not as simple as a carrot or a stick but you get the analogy.
So try to see your coworkers from hell as a challenge and a learning experience. If you succeed in getting them to behave the way the you want, you’ve won even if they think they’ve won (and especially if they think they’ve won).
First, think about what makes them the way they are – some people just have poor filters, others are repeating behaviour that’s worked for them before; few (besides Simon) are total trouble–makers of the Machiavellian school. So remove emotion from the equation and stop taking it personally.
Once you’ve worked out what motivates them, plan how to use this effectively to change their behaviour, prevent it from affecting you, or use it to further your own career.
Take old Olive. She brings all her personal problems to work, you know everything about her guy down to his favourite position, what she did last weekend, and probably every medical condition she’s ever experienced in waaaay too much detail. Olive is more than an irritation, she could negatively affect your career because ‘discretion’ is not one of her personality traits. You need to be aware of what you tell her. But you can also use her indiscretion to your own advantage. Say you’ve done some amaaaaazing work that you want your boss to hear about. Sometimes it’s better if the message comes from someone else, right? Who you gonna tell the secret to…? (Hint: it’s NOT Simon!)
Suzi is cc-ing the whole company on every email she sends because she lacks confidence and is covering her back. Your first intervention would be to say, within her hearing, that you were often tempted to cc all and sundry until you discovered that the MD doesn’t like it, or until someone told you that floods of emails dissolve the strength of your message, or that it highlights a weakness (lack of confidence)… The next would be a calm and non-accusational request not to cc correspondence between the two of you to senior staff, or to leave you off the cc list.
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Ah, Denis. Tough one. If he’s delegating he obviously has the seniority to do so. If the load he’s shifting from his desk to yours is affecting the quality of your work, you need to do something about it stat. He’s not going to get the letter of warning when you drop a ball; you are. He is never going to take that work on – but you can’t let overloading affect your output. And so, as much as you probably loathe him now, your aim is not revenge; your aim is to ensure you get what you want, which is a promotion for your brilliant work, preferably out of his department. Have a meeting with HR. Explain how much extra you’ve taken on and that while you’re thrilled about the extra responsibility, you’re concerned about quality. Do not accuse Denis. Keep it unemotional. You’ll need to be able to show that you’ve tried to keep up and that you’re enthusiastic about extra work, but you want to be able to give your work your best focus… Now that you’ve presented the problem, offer a solution – one that doesn’t involve Denis. Maybe offer to find and train an intern. Get permission for your solution from HR and after your meeting send a follow up email confirming your ‘take outs from the discussion’. This acts as your record. Now, take HR’s advice, which is probably to discuss your solution with Denis. You can work it so he thinks he’s come up with the solution himself… HR will know better.
The only way to deal with Simon involves cyanide. JOKES! He’s trying to make himself look good by making you look bad. Somehow you need to convince him that you’re an ally he needs on his side, and particularly that you’re not in competition with him. (Ha! Of course you are, but he mustn’t know.) This will probably involve a lot of compliments through gritted teeth. But remember what you’re after: it is not ‘crushing him into dust’ – your goal is to prevent him sabotaging your career and winning the promotion you want. A really good, if sneaky, strategy is to ask his advice. This will effectively share the responsibility for success (or failure). By doing this, hard as it may be, you’re ensuring his cooperation – he’s hardly going to sabotage himself.
‘I can’t stand the Negative Nancy type,’ says Melissa. ’She makes you question your career choice and the stability of your position and the company you work for. While making tea in the kitchen she’ll slip into the conversation that the company is on a downward slope or cash strapped, and that you should get out while you can. It can go on for years. Yet surprisingly the company doesn’t close down and Negative Nancy doesn’t look for another job.’ Nothing spoils Nancy’s day like relentless good humour. Contradict her gloominess, firmly disagree with her when she is negative about the company, tell her that dissing the boss makes you uncomfortable. And then, simply keep out of her way. There is not much she can do for or to you – no-one takes her seriously anyway. So smile and wave and don’t let her bring you down.
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Just remember: dealing with coworkers from hell may involve some skullduggery, a hefty helping of psychology and a teeny dollop of ingeniousness but it should never involve confrontation. Now, Ms Machiavelli, go get ’em!