How to Deal with Toxic Co-Workers

“I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand,” – Linus van Pelt

It may be pulled from a Charlie Brown comic strip but it is one of my favorite quotes of all time, and one so many of us can relate to. In addition, we’ve all heard the saying “you can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family.” While that may be true, the only family I’m subjected to spending ~40 hours a week with these days is my work “family.” Studies show that by the time you’re 50 years old, 23% (or 35% of the time you’re conscious) of your life will be spent at work. And unless you’re part of the 1% of the population that loves their job (that’s based on my personal study), that’s pretty downright depressing. But ask yourself this: is it the actual work that makes you unhappy or the people you’re forced to interact with? If you answered the latter, let’s talk through the five most common personalities we’re all surrounded with in your typical 9 to 5 and your best course of action on handling them.

Chatty Patty

Most people work eight hours a day, but how much of that time is actually spent working? Thanks to Chatty Patty you’ve probably been required to hear about her kid’s soccer game or the latest gossip between co-workers more than you ever wished. Once she’s finally done, you probably have two dozen e-mails to catch up on.

Strategy: Withhold information.

  • Refrain from sharing too many personal details about yourself. People enjoy connecting with people they can relate to and if you suppress that information chances are they will move to another target.
  • Everyone loves juicy work gossip but it’s better to share with those you trust. Chatty Patty has a big mouth, so you shouldn’t be shocked when she takes what she heard from you and passes it on to a broader audience.

Billy Blame

Passing blame isn’t taboo, as in many instances it’s necessary and required. The difference between you and Billy Blame is you own up to your mistakes when they occur, whereas nothing is ever Billy’s fault. He will deflect any responsibility of guilt but won’t hesitate to point fingers at others when even the slightest hiccup occurs.

Strategy: Facts always beat opinions.

  • The key to defeating the blame passer is coming locked and loaded with irrefutable evidence. Since blamers are often lazy, their points are usually based on opinions as opposed to hard facts. Is Billy Blame claiming he wasn’t notified about something? Find that old e-mail that proves he was. He has a hunch as to why that project went south? Spend time compiling the data that shows otherwise in your rebuttal.
  • Fighting fire with fire isn’t always the answer. Blamers have a tendency to overreact on situations and have a PhD in sending e-mails that are 500 words too long. Your responses to these should be emphatic yet brief. Get to the point and end it there. Extra emphasis on this when the e-mail chains have others copied or in meetings with your fellow colleagues. Don’t drop to Billy Blame’s level and make a spectacle of things, be the bigger person and it will shine through.

Negative Nancy

Misery loves company doesn’t it? Well Negative Nancy is some of the worst company you can find at work. Nothing is more toxic than a colleague complaining every chance they get.

Strategy: Play devil’s advocate.

  • Negative Nancy yearns for others to agree with her. She isn’t as interested in venting as she is the desire that her opinions and thoughts be validated by colleagues who may feel similar. Venting is typically saved for a spouse, since they are an easy sounding board and don’t have the continuity like someone within the office to provide valuable feedback.
  • It’s important to engage in active listening and provide your feedback in an assertive manner. Don’t give Nancy the opportunity to write you off because she didn’t feel heard or that you’re wavering on your position.
    By providing an alternate point of view or refusing to corroborate Nancy’s position, she’ll more than likely attempt to find another source to confide in. This would be the intended outcome.

Eddie Ego

There’s confidence and there’s cocky. The difference between them is quite easy. Confidence is having faith that goals will be met; cocky is taking all the credit when they are contributing very little. Eddie Ego lives in a fantasy land where he believes he possesses all the answers but in actuality has none.

Strategy: Pick your battles.

  • Dealing with an individual that has a big ego is often exhausting. You’re going to want to challenge them at all times, but it’s important to know when to engage. The worst thing you can do is feed the ego, and if you challenge them when unprepared you may lose and feed the beast even more. When you feel confident in a topic and have data to back up your case, that’s the time to strike.
  • Ask the person open ended questions and let them talk themselves into the ground. The faster you can humble the individual, the easier things will be.

Compulsive Carl

We’ve all come across the person that feels the need to nit-pick and micro manage every task. After all, OCD is a common medical disorder and is no more obvious than in the workplace. Often the responsibilities are not even their own but they somehow find a way to include themselves anyways. When tasks aren’t completed in their desired way you better be prepared to hear about it.

Strategy: Work to gain their trust.

  • It’s going to take an open mind and a load of patience, but the key to getting Compulsive Carl off your case is to win them over. Unlike his peers (Billy Blame and Eddie Ego) Car’s obsessiveness may come with real value. Let him know you respect his opinion, are open to his ideas, and embrace his techniques on certain aspects where they’ve shown they’re a subject matter expert.
  • The compulsive individuals main concern is doing things efficiently and effectively, even if that means getting feedback from others. If you feel like your ideas are valid, I encourage you to make those recommendations. The ambitious type is always interested in improving processes.
  • The sooner that Compulsive Carl recognizes you’re self-sufficient, have bought into their ideas and brought your own to the table, the sooner he’ll direct his attention elsewhere.

What techniques have you found successful when dealing with these types of individuals? What are some more personalities you’ve come across? Let me know in the comments!

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