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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.
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’…)
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.
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 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.