How to overcome a difficult coworker and be victorious at work
One of the most important festivals in the Hindu calendar, Dussehra symbolises the victory of good over evil. The victory of Ram against Ravana holds lessons for every facet of life, no more so than in the workplace where difficult people abound. Be it the passive-aggressive persona, the ultra-competitor or the volcano waiting to explode, every workplace has its share of toxic coworkers.
It’s extremely important to nip toxicity at the workplace in the bud before it takes a toll on your productivity, health and sanity. Relationship expert and author of The People Factor Van Moody, says poor coworker relations can cause more than business issues. “Difficult workplace relationships are far more than a nuisance,” Moody said. “They can cause anxiety, burnout, clinical depression and even physical illness.” In a survey by talent management system Cornerstone OnDemand, about 54% respondents said they were more likely to quit if they had a toxic employee on their team.
What’s worse is that toxic behavior is extremely contagious; it can spread from coworker to coworker and worsen the work environment.
To nip things in the bud, and improve your workplace relationships, here are some tactful ways to deal with some typical toxic coworkers:
The one who can only be called negativity ninja
Just like in Chicken Little, the children's tale, the sky is always falling on these coworkers. Any good news – be it bagging a new account or finishing a tough project – will be met with a whiny “Oh, but that client is a pain” or “We haven’t done exactly what the client wanted”. Always complaining and pessimistic, these people first identify the poor aspects of any situation, bringing down everyone’s morale.
Try: Give their negativity a positive spin but let them know that the naysaying isn’t appreciated.
Say: “I appreciate that you think through all the possible reasons things won’t work. But it would be helpful to me and the team’s morale if you sometimes make a supportive statement.”
The one who survives by being passive-aggressive
Everybody engages in mild passive-aggressive behavior from time to time. But a pathological passive-aggressive person uses their behavior as a tool to interact and survive. This colleague acts appropriately on the surface, but uses that to cloak an obstructive attitude. So this person may obstruct a project through silent treatment or limited communication. Preston Ni, a communications professor and author of How to Successfully Handle Passive-Aggressive People, sums this person up with a Chinese proverb: “Behind the smile there's a hidden knife.”
Try: Rather than getting sucked into the vortex of passive-aggressive behavior, deal with this coworker with kindness and positivity.
Say: “You made a good point in that exchange we had the other day. Here’s what my takeaway was...how else do you think we can meet this deadline better?"
The one who only knows how to say yes
You may not think so, but this kind is one of the most toxic coworkers in your office. Yes men (or women) are basically suck-ups and fall in line with whatever the boss says. Is this a good Plan B? Yes. Is this doable? Yes. Will we be able to meet our target? Yes. You get the idea? The Yes Man tends to agree with anything and everything anyone says in a meeting. Typically following the lead from senior members and never vocalizing their opinion means they never take responsibility or blame.
Try: Handle this is by posing specific questions about why they have a certain viewpoint. This brings home the point that their PoV and reasoning for the “yes” is crucial for the team and organization.
Say: “Why do you think we should go for Plan B and not Plan C? How do you think that will affect us in the short and long term?”
The one who dishes the dirt and lives for gossip
Gossip is everywhere in the workplace, but there are a few coworkers who rule the watercooler. Be it a layoff, new hire, policy decision or marital trouble, substantiated or unsubstantiated, these people “know it all”. And they don't hesitate to repeat these rumors again and again till everyone in the office knows. When innocuous chitchat turns into harmful gossip, this verbal harassment builds a negative, inflammatory and embarrassing work environment.
Try: Gossip is often rooted in hearsay. Asking this coworker for facts to back up a statement takes all the fun out of gossip.
Say: ”Oh, wow, I didn't know that. Is that a fact? Or did you hear that from someone in the office?”
A common strategy to deal with any kind of toxic coworker is using soft skills, such as humour and small talk, to turn the situation around. But if things go on a downward spiral, experts advise documenting behavior, including emails and texts, for management and the HR department.
Keep Dale Carnegie’s advice in mind, “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudice, and motivated by pride and vanity.”