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How to Cope With Coworkers from Hell

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coworkers from hell

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If you’ve been in the workforce for any length of time, chances are you’ve run into one of them—the coworkers who make everyone else’s days miserable. You wish they would just get fired, and maybe someday they will; karma’s gotta come around eventually, right?.

But until then, here are some tips for dealing some of the most common incarnations of The Coworker from Hell – without getting fired yourself.

The Grump

It was cute when Eeyore did it, but not so cute when the middle-aged woman the next cube over sighs, “Well, that figures…” every time the printer jams. You dread asking her anything because you know it will be met with a belabored sigh and the inference that you’re part of the universe’s grand scheme to keep her down.

The best way to deal with The Grump is to kill her with kindness (and then promptly ignore her). Be polite, be upbeat and let every frown and under-the-breath mutter roll right off you.

You will probably never be able to de-grumpifya Grump, but you don’t have to let her bad attitude ruin your day. (Plus, nothing bothers a Grump more than someone who refuses to sympathize with their woes. Not that you’d be so devious as to use cheerfulness as a weapon, but I’m just sayin’…)

The Bully

If you think you’ve outgrown playground politics, think again. Grownups still find plenty of ways to intimidate and exert power over others because they feel insecure about themselves. Taking note of every time you run five minutes past your lunch? Or cc’ing the boss on an e-mail complaining to you about a personal conflict? Office bullies want nothing more than to bring other people down to make themselves look better.

The one and only way to handle an office Bully is to ignore them and take the high road. Don’t respond unless it’s absolutely necessary (as in saving your reputation from that libelous cc).

If you do need to respond, be polite, be respectful and say as little as possible. Bring any potentially work-threatening conflicts to your supervisor’s attention rather than trying to hash them out with the Bully.

Be the grownup—don’t engage, don’t fuel the fire and soon enough the Bully will either get frustrated and bother someone else or cross the line so far that management takes notice.

The Clinger

You took the new girl out for lunch to make her feel welcome, and now she’s waiting for you every day at noon asking, “So, where are we going today?”

You have to be kind with a Clinger. It can be tough making friends at work, and you’ve obviously helped this person feel like they belong. Don’t cut them off altogether; instead, try to gradually extricate yourself from being their 24/7 pal.

Claim other obligations you have to fulfill now and then. Help introduce them to other people in the office. Make it clear that you’re available, but not constantly available. Gently prying yourself from a Clinger’s grip is much more effective than suddenly ignoring them altogether, which can result in an unfortunate “Why do you hate me what did I do how can I make it up to you?!” reaction.

The Chatty Cathy (or Charles)

Your best defense against a chatty coworker is your environment: you’re at work. Just tell them you have work to do.

There are plenty of ways to do this tactfully: “I’m so sorry to have to run, but the boss is expecting that report from me,” or “I hate to cut you off, but I have a deadline.” Preface your exit with a statement that expresses your regret, then get the heck out of there.

Don’t feel bad if you need to interrupt a Chatterbox mid-sentence; some of them don’t leave room to get a word in edgewise. Some won’t even care that you’ve left and will latch on to the next available person without skipping a beat.

Which brings up the dilemma of the Ultimate Chatterbox, the sort that doesn’t get the hint even after you’ve gone back to your desk, sat down and started typing while they continue to regale you. In those cases, the other person has basically decreed that politeness has gone out the window. Continue to type away, refuse to lend even an “Mm-hmm,” even pick up the phone and start making a call if you want to. When the Chatterbox realizes she’s not getting any kind of reaction, she’ll get bored and move on.

The Gossip

The thing to remember with an office Gossip is however much secret enjoyment you get from hearing the latest dish on your boss, you are palling up to the office Gossip. Just because you’ve shared some juicy exchanges doesn’t make you immune to becoming one of their hot topics down the road. (Or from being labeled a gossip yourself if people find out you’ve been swapping stories.)

Be extremely careful what you say around a Gossip. Practice phrases like, “That’s really none of my business” and “I’m sorry; I’ve got work to do right now.” The further away you keep from a Gossip, the better you are. Nothing good ever comes from talking behind people’s backs.

When all else fails

If a coworker is really preventing you from getting your work done, or if they’re acting unethically or harassing you, it’s not tattling to take it to your superiors. Some people are just difficult to work with, but when it crosses the line and reaches any of these extents, you have the right to stand up for yourself. Don’t forget that!

Kelly Gurnett, a.k.a. “Cordelia,” runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do.  You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • http://twitter.com/alexander_jade AlexanderJade

    Very important to understand the difference between tattling and responsible complaint. Gee, even the word tattling makes me envision a school playground!

    http://www.alexanderjade.com

    • http://www.cordeliacallsitquits.com Cordelia

      Exactly!

  • Amandah

    Great list! I would add “The Complainer” and “The Whiner.” Sometimes, these two are one in the same.

    Dealing with co-workers

    Dealing with co-workers can be tricky business. It’s too bad colleges and universities don’t teach you ‘how to’ deal with people in the workplace. God knows I’ve had to deal with “The Grump, The Gossip, and The Bully.” Speaking of the latter… This is why it’s important to teach kids at an early age ‘how to’ deal with bullies because they can be found in the workplace. Personally, I don’t think ‘ignoring’ a bully will make them go away. I had my first office job at 18 and there were two ‘women’ bullies in the small office, and they didn’t go away. I got fed up and quit. This wasn’t the way to handle it. I was out of job and income! But… Fast forward two years later, and the president of the company called me and asked if I wanted to come back. I accepted his offer and lo and behold the one bully was gone and the other one was still there. But, she got married and pregnant and ended up quitting. I was never so grateful for a child then I was at that moment. And, the office was so nice without her. All of us did our jobs and didn’t ‘bitch’ about anything.

    Dealing with bullies

    Fast forward to now, and I’m developing a teen/parenting business/website to teach kids ‘how to’ set boundaries, how to deal with bullies, etc. In my situation the one bully didn’t like that the president of the company kept comparing my work performance to hers. He kept questioning ‘why’ it always took her sooooo long to complete the invoicing and why I got it done within an hour (depending on how big the stack was). I can tell you why. She stretched out the invoicing so she would finish mid-morning. By the time she’d get done with everything, it was close to lunchtime. I couldn’t believe it when she told me this. Whatever. I was and still am ambitious and a go-getter. I was willing to do and learn more about the business.

    Final thoughts

    The bottom line is most bullies are insecure and need someone else to blame for their issues and shortcomings. Once kids and adults ‘get’ this, they’ll be able to stand up to bullies. Ignoring bullies and the situations won’t make it them go away. Kids need to know how to empower themselves so they can empower themselves in their adulthood.

    • http://www.cordeliacallsitquits.com Cordelia

      You raise some very good points. Bullies are absolutely fueled by insecurity, and I’ve known more than one person who’s kept tabs on her coworkers’ tiniest of infractions simply because she, like one of the bullies you experienced, needed to puff herself up because it took her an entire day to do what it took others an hour or two to finish.

      It’s also true that sometimes, bullies just won’t go away. In those situations, you absolutely should bring it to the attention of management and, if this doesn’t solve the problem, you have the choice of either confronting the bully straight out (which may or may not intimidate them into being quiet) or (worst case scenario) looking for a different job or changing departments. While I hate the thought that a bully could “win” like this, I do recognize that no one should spend the better part of their day in a hostile environment. You need to look out for your own health and happiness first.

  • Tsgalpin

    One Note on the “Bully” I sat next too a terrible one for 15 months. One co worker was bullied into sedatives and anti anxiety drugs and quit after 6 months. I did everything the article said. And still ended up in marriage counseling. I took the high road and informed management. What the article misses is that sometime management in in a another state and doesn’t care. As I said, after 15 months the bullying ended, thanks to a headhunter friend getting me a better gig at a better employer. Sometimes the only solutions to a toxic office personality are fight or flight. I choose flight, because the job frankly was not worth fighting for…

    • http://www.cordeliacallsitquits.com Cordelia

      You bring up a good point. When even taking the issue to management doesn’t help, then you should certainly start considering other jobs. No position is worth your healthy or your sanity.

  • Reaganm

    I eventually quit my job at Walmart because the people there could only cope by becoming annoying chatter boxes. I almost went insane! They would talk constantly about nothing and about the fact that I didn’t respond often it was extremely annoying.

    http://internationalupdates.com

    • http://www.cordeliacallsitquits.com Cordelia

      No job is worth your sanity. Good move by leaving. It doesn’t sound like that sort of environment was bound to change any time soon.

  • http://www.jjinfra.com/ JJInfra

    Great list !

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  • Sahay Deep

    One more category should be idealist. Who always talks of ideal world and wants impractical solution from others.

  • kat

    I had to leave my job, my whole department was against me and had bi polar disorder…..they wanted me out no matter what…Now I don’t know what to do with my life….But I miss making money….

  • http://www.kestometik.org/ Rahul Soni
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