In the office, we rarely get to choose who we work with. And sometimes, this can lead to being teamed up with impossible coworkers. While quitting your job and living alone in the woods can feel like a tempting alternative on some afternoons, there are better ways to deal with difficult coworkers. Here are few tips—that don’t involve abandoning society—for dealing with the worst coworkers:
1. Keep interactions brief and professional.
Have a coworker who wastes your time with endless monologs about his or her personal life? To keep the interaction brief and professional, quickly rehearse what you need to say before approaching. Often, this means skipping over social niceties smoothly. If someone with a reputation to talk for ages says: “Got a minute?” Answer: “Pretty much—exactly one. What’s up?” This gets them straight to the point, so you can get back to work. When possible, use email. This not only frees up time, but also provides you with a written record in case people forget what was discussed later on.
2. Don’t engage with the gossipmongers.
This one can take some discipline. After all, many people can get drawn into juicy office gossip. But getting involved can come back to haunt you. Think about it this way: If your coworker is willing to talk about another person at the office, what makes you safe?
If they ask your opinion on the latest buzz around the office, shrug and say: “Sorry, I can’t help you with that one.” It robs them of ammunition to add to the latest he-said/she-said drama.
3. Nip negativity in the bud.
Do you work with someone who complains all the time? The weather is too hot or too cool. The product launch is delayed. He or she hates the color of the new brochures. The new computer system is going to be a nightmare.
While the occasional kvetching session can be good for bonding, constant negativity can bring you down and harm your productivity or well-being. Instead of being drawn into it, say something non-committal and change the subject. If it happens all the time, it’s okay to gently call the coworker out. Tell him or her: “I need to keep in a positive headspace. I’m sure you understand!”
4. Avoid the underminers.
They sit in meetings and poke holes in every idea you come up with. Not only can these coworkers be demoralizing to work with; but they can also hurt your career if they keep you from getting important projects off the ground.
In meetings, work around these people by being well-prepared. Before you begin describing an idea, preface your presentation with: “Stay with me while I explain this; I can address questions after.” This gives you time to make your case without being derailed. Alternatively, email the boss with an outline of your plan before the meeting, so your idea is presented without the bitter commentary.
5. Sometimes, keeping peace is better than being right.
Do you have a coworker who has an unsolicited opinion about every topic under the sun? Even if you know that he or she is saying something factually incorrect, let it slide. Think about it this way: Deep down, do you really care about what he or she believes? Nod and smile, then get back to enjoying your day.