How to cope with colleagues from hell (as featured in Ignites Europe)

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People Feature: How to cope with colleagues from hell

Article published on 4 March 2014
By Attracta Mooney

The workplace can be a political minefield, with difficult colleagues among the daily problems employees face.

The asset management industry is an intense and competitive place to work, and it is unsurprising that bad traits can sometimes make an appearance.

However, experts say there is often a simple way to deal with problematic colleagues.

The most important thing to remember is to be professional, says Penny Davenport, a careers coach and former City worker.

“For those [co-workers] you really struggle to get on with, keep it professional and try and concentrate on their work assets. In other words, [focus on] what they are contributing to the work environment, which is what really matters, [rather than their negative traits],” she adds.

“Try and keep a sense of humour and where possible refrain from bitching or back-stabbing as this kind of behaviour always comes back to haunt us.”

Experts list the most difficult colleagues and offer advice on how to deal with them.

The jealous co-worker

If your colleague is jealous, the important thing to remember is it is not about you, says Corinne Mills, managing director at Personal Career Management.

They are likely to be jealous of anyone and “that is their problem to deal with”, she adds.

However, it is also worth keeping in mind that a jealous colleague will “usually resent and even try to undermine you”, says Howard Romst, author of Difficult People at Work.

“You need to really get to the bottom of why they are jealous. Sitting down and talking to this person will most likely clear up any issues that might be in the air,” he says.

“Be nice to them [and] don’t let them get under your skin.”

Ms Davenport says that as jealously is often about a “lack of self-worth”, it is worth involving jealous co-workers in projects or tasks to make them feel more valued.

“Use compliments or flattery – in a genuine way only – to bolster their self-esteem and to show them that you are not a threat,” she adds.

The angry one

An angry colleague can be unnerving, but it is important not to take it personally, says Ms Davenport.

Such individuals – also known as highly dominant people – are usually mostly interested in themselves and perceive their opinions to be fact, she adds.

“Use ‘strokes’ to diffuse or calm situations, such as, ‘Thanks for being so direct with me’ or ‘I’m glad you shared that’,” says Ms Davenport.

“Then move on and give them space. Rather like toddlers, angry people’s tantrums tend to blow over quickly.”

The one who is passive aggressive

Passive aggressive colleagues are among the most tricky to work with, say experts.

“They are essentially lazy and will sabotage you in a heartbeat. This is one of the least productive personalities in a work place and one that takes up the most time to manage,” says Mr Romst.

In a case like this, directly approaching them might be a good option, he adds.

“I would be fair and straightforward but do not enable these people and let them get away with this,” he says.

The lazy colleague

It is important to remember that you are usually not responsible for lazy co-workers, says Ms Davenport.

“Allow your boss to do his or her job and to manage the people around you,” she says.

“Chances are they are well aware of the characteristics and behaviour of your colleague but have decided to manage this in their own way.”

However, if it is a close colleague that is showing signs of laziness, it might be worth having a chat with them, says Mr Romst.

“Perhaps there is something going on with them in their private life,” he says. “You can also explain to them that their lack of attention to their work is sabotaging others’ [work].”

“Most importantly, do not let their bad attitude and laziness affect the quality of your work,” adds Mr Romst.

If nothing else works, steer clear of the lazy worker and “let them dig their own grave”, he adds.

The person who hogs the glory

Experts say it is often worth confronting colleagues who take all the credit for team projects or who steal your ideas and pass them off as their own.

If they claim they were the brains behind a minor idea or project that you were responsible for, Mr Romst recommends talking to them yourself and finding out why they did this.

“If they took credit for something really big, like saying they came up with the application you just developed, then it’s time to go see your supervisor,” he adds.

“Don’t let the small ‘thefts’ slide as they will turn into bigger ones and don’t let the big ones get away as you are the one that is ultimately getting screwed.”

Ms Davenport says another approach is to take the person out to lunch and launch a charm offensive.

“Compliment them on their recent successes,” she says. “Chances are they’ll be shamed into behaving better in the future.

“There is more than one way to let someone know you are on to them without a direct confrontation.”

The one who does not follow the rules

In a highly regulated industry such as financial services, those who try to circumvent the rules can have a huge impact on themselves and the company.

“Due to the regulations in the financial industry, a few missteps can land one person in a lot of trouble, not only with regulatory committees but with the law as well,” says Mr Romst.

He recommends painting a clear picture for the person of why the regulations are there and what the consequences are if they do not adhere to them.

“Above all, do not put yourself in a situation where this person’s actions will affect your livelihood,” he says.

“If that person is breaking the law and refuses to heed your warning, and they chance dragging you down with them, it is then your responsibility to discuss this with your supervisor.”

The racist or sexist

Ms Mills says taking a direct approach is often the best option with racist or sexist colleagues. “Say something like: ‘I can’t believe you just said that. Are you aware that that sounds racist?’,” she recommends.

“If it continues, have a quiet word and say I feel very uncomfortable if you say that kind of thing,” she adds.

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