5 difficult co-workers and how to work with them

Some do no work at all—and some of those good-for-nothings have the gall to claim credit for your talent and diligence. You’d talk to the boss about it, if only you didn’t despise him…

People can be the most stressful part of any job.

That sounds harsh. After all, most people are the best part of a job. But others, well, some are so difficult to deal with that they prevent you from being your best.

Wouldn’t it be so nice to just ignore them? To be successful in your career, you have to be able to work with difficult people. Fortunately, you can learn this skill.

Here are five common workplace types that people complain about. Keep in mind that you will not be able to change them, and you probably won’t even be able to exert a significant influence on their behavior. Approach these situations not by trying to change them, but with the mindset of “How can I change myself to work better with them?”

1. The slacker

Slackers simply don’t like to work. They push their responsibilities onto everyone else. They show little initiative, and see deadlines as mere suggestions.

Why this person bothers you: When they do produce work, it embarrasses you (to put it mildly). It requires so much effort to eke out any productivity from the slacker that people around them give up trying and pull the extra weight themselves. The problem is you don’t have the authority to fire them, and your boss either can’t or is unwilling to do so.

What you can do: Focus on your work and your work only. As a colleague, ask yourself if you are enabling their behavior by picking up some of the slack. If you feel pressured to “help out” and you know this is person doesn’t reciprocate, voice your concerns to your boss before taking on the extra responsibility. If you are their manager, this is one situation where micromanaging can be effective. Give small tasks with tight deadlines and follow-up persistently.

2. The well-meaning incompetent

This person is hardworking but clearly underqualified. He is incapable of making difficult decisions, and he requires hand-holding.

Why this person bothers you: This is tough, because it’s not so easy to blame him. Unfortunately, sometimes our best is not good enough, but motivation and effort do not make up for lack of results over the long term.

What you can do: Focus on what he can do rather than what he can’t. If you have time to help out, teach him how to do something rather than simply doing it for him.

Managers, make sure you are not enabling. Give him honest performance feedback—don’t sugarcoat it. Let him know what skills he needs to develop to be effective. If he’s unable to do so, you might have to move him to a different position.

3. The fraud

This person brags and exaggerates his accomplishments. He is more concerned with appearing to be competent, hardworking, and capable than actually being so. He likes to talk about work more than he likes to do work.

Why this person bothers you: If you are annoyed by the fraud, you are probably the opposite. You like to work hard, and claiming credit for that work takes a back seat.

What you can do: Proactively defend yourself so this person can’t claim credit for your work. If it happens after the fact, speak up and mention your role in the project, too. You must manage your image at work and market your skills and accomplishments anyway. Take some tips from the fraud—with the difference being you deserve the credit and accolades.

4. The hypercompetitive peer

These people backstab and stir the pot to get themselves that promotion or raise. They look out for themselves. How unfortunate if someone should get in their way.

Why this person bothers you: This person is difficult to work with because he has only his own interests in mind—at the expense of others and the company.

What you can do: If you are the teamwork type, you are at the opposite end of the spectrum. You must realize this person is wired differently from you. Enlist his participation only when it is also in his best interest to do so, and accept that he will never want to do anything for the sake of the team.

If you are the boss, use this person’s competitiveness where it can be a strength. Perhaps he can compete with others or with himself to surpass sales goals.

5. The aggravating boss

Because of the dynamics at play, most people dislike their bosses. Even people who get along with their bosses may dislike some aspects of their boss’s personality or specific workplace behaviors. Fortunately, it’s not mandatory to like your boss or even be friends with him, but you do have to work effectively together.

Why this person bothers you: Not only do you have to work with him, you have to work for him.

What you can do: Pinpoint the issue. Does your boss micromanage? Does she fail to set direction? Is he ineffective in a crucial aspect of his job? Does she treat you unfairly? Do you simply have a difficult time tolerating his unique personality? Once you identify the specific behavior that bothers you, you can take steps to manage the situation.

Can you describe the most difficult person you have ever had to work with? Please share in the comments—no names, please.

Eva Rykrsmith is an organizational psychology practitioner. Follow her @EvaRykr. A version of this article originally appeared on The Fast Track. You might also like: “5 worst people to have in your meetings and how to deal with them.”


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