How To Deal With The 5 Most Common Types of Difficult Co-Workers (Part I)

We’ve all had our fair share of colleagues who made the office feel like a battleground (albeit a silent one played out subtly and indirectly.) Since it can be so emotionally and mentally exhausting to deal with them, you might feel like it’s better to keep your head down and mind your own business.

Unfortunately, difficult co-workers are a dime a dozen. Knowing how to deal with them without sacrificing your performance or relationships at work is essential to your career advancement. In some cases, it’s necessary just to maintain your sanity.

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Sweeping everything under the carpet until you can no longer endure it isn’t just counter-productive. It also reflects poorly on you and your professionality in dealing with negativity at work. It might even jeopardise your performance in the long run, and that of your entire team’s as well.

It’s worth noting, though, that it isn’t productive to take a permanently adversarial stance against difficult co-workers, either. Importantly, you need to practice empathy in understanding each personality better so that you can deal with them more effectively.

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That said, not all difficult co-workers are created equal. Some are just annoying but relatively harmless, while others are downright toxic. To start with, we’ll look at how to empathise and deal with the annoying types.

P.S. Arm yourself with the tools you need to work well with all kinds of teammates at work; sign up today for SSA Academy’s WSQ course on working in a team!

 

The Know-It-Alls

 

Who they are:

Teammates who love to show off and condescend to others.

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Why they’re difficult:

Know-it-alls tend to think they always have the answers to everything and that their input is the most valuable in the team, even if their self-assuredness isn’t justified.

Because of this, they tend to be overbearing and love hogging airtime, which can make meetings unnecessarily long.

Additionally, they’re often terrible listeners who only pay attention to what others are saying so that they can debunk them.

Whether they intend to or not, they make others in the team feel small and insignificant, ultimately hurting team morale. This can be especially discouraging for new hires.

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How to empathise:

1. They may not realise how they seem to others

It might be hard to understand this, but some people naturally have abrasive and condescending communication styles. It doesn’t mean they have bad intentions.

They may just need to learn to communicate better. Smart people, for example, may not realise that they’re offending anyone. In their minds, they’re simply pointing out the most logical solutions.

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2. They may feel as though they have something to prove.

Insecurity can play itself out in many different ways, including wanting to compensate by appearing to know everything. It could be deeply rooted in earlier life experiences like childhood.

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How to deal with them:

1. Take them aside and give them constructive criticism

Let them know that they may unintentionally be hurting others and discouraging others from actively participating at work.

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2. Stand firm and be prepared

Sometimes, it isn’t enough to respectfully disagree with a know-it-all. Back yourself up with facts and figures, and give evidence for why you’re standing by your initial judgment.

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The Surprise Attackers

Who they are:

People who have passive-aggressive tendencies.

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Why they’re difficult:

They aren’t outrightly confrontational or abrasive like the know-it-alls, but their aggression comes out in little spikes and bursts of hostility that can feel like it came out of nowhere.

Indeed, with passive-aggressive people, they tend to do such a good job of covering up their negativity that when it does come out, it takes you completely by surprise and leaves you confused as to what the cause for such behaviour was.

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How to empathise:

1. It probably isn’t about you.

They may have unmet needs that are completely unrelated to work and causing them to take out their frustration on others, including yourself.

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How to deal with them:

1. Stay on top of your emotions

Don’t be reactive; you shouldn’t allow them to get under your skin. Practice self-control in your interactions with them, and don’t resort to tit-for-tat measures.

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2. Pick your battles wisely

Passive-aggressive people can be particularly emotionally draining, so don’t take the bait every time unless you really feel that they’ve crossed the line.

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3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

If you’ve tried to talk to them about it and failed, it may be time to bring in another co-worker, your manager, or an HR professional to help mediate.

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Need more help in dealing with passive-aggressive colleagues? Here you go.

 

The Goldfishes

Who they are:

People who are always forgetting deadlines and other things at work.

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Why they’re difficult:

It’s not that they’re lazy; they’re just plain absent-minded, but it gets on your nerves all the same. They miss deadlines and forget to relay crucial information on to other parties.

Worst of all, they end up only remembering their tasks at the last minute, which can create bottlenecks for productivity in the team.

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How to empathise:

1. It may be that they’re overwhelmed with their workload.

Having too much on their plate might cause them to forget things they aren’t focusing on.

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2. They may need help getting organised at work

A messy desk and a haphazard to-do list only facilitate forgetfulness.

 

 

How to deal with them:

1. Be tactful when giving them reminders

Being too harsh can cause them to get self-defensive. Address how their forgetfulness is affecting the team’s efficiency, but keep the discussion centred on specific instances of forgetfulness instead of making it personal.

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2. Ask if they need any help

Being a good teammate is about keeping the team’s interests before your own. If they genuinely are overloaded with work, offer to help them out. It may not necessarily mean offering to take on some of their work. It can be as simple as helping to figure out a more comprehensive process for them to keep track of their tasks.

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