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Ana Antunes da Silva

Aim to Be

Coach - Facilitator - Consultant

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How to Deal with Difficult Colleagues


They say you choose your friends but not your family. Where do colleagues fit it? We spend more time with our work colleagues than we do with our friends or family yet we don't really have a choice in who they are.  You may become friends with some of them, admire a few and consider others decent co-workers. So what happens when day in day out you have to deal with difficult personalities?

As with beauty, difficult is indeed in the eye of the beholder. In this context, difficult refers to anyone who makes your life at work stressful or unpleasant, or someone who frustrates you for any number of reasons. Essentially, anyone who even by just thinking about them, you struggle not to use unpleasant adjectives!

Workplace Characters

Here are a few common “difficult” workplace personalities. Think about how many of these you have encountered or indeed, shock, horror, could you be one of them? Here are the ABCs (and Ds!) of challenging work personalities.

  • A = Always taking credit

This person will never acknowledge others for their contribution. They are very happy to take the credit and lead people to believe they did it all. The first time it happens you may just consider it an innocent mistake. Bring it to their attention by saying they forgot to mention you. If it happens again it’s no accident! Market yourself and let as many people as possible know what your involvement was. Try to avoid working with this person as they will use you to their advantage and own career progression.

  • B = Blabbermouth

This individual seems to know all the gossip and wants to share it. These people may be a useful to get news of what is going on in the office that may not reach you formally. The problem is not all of it will be true. They can create conflict and suspicion as they also like to discuss things behind closed doors, to give the impression they are part of everything.  Just listen and don’t allow your own points of view to be affected. If they start discussing something of a really personal nature then change the subject and ignore it all together. Remember, at some point you are likely to be part of the gossip too...

  • C = Chatterbox

This one is definitely the most harmless. This person will be very sociable and will probably have been the first person you spoke to and made you feel at ease in the office. The problem is their incessant chatting might be getting in the way of you getting your work done. If this is the case just be polite about it and take the blame. Say you struggle to multitask and can’t concentrate when listening to such great stuff.

  • D = Drama Queen/King

There’s always one, that one person who never finds anything to be happy about. They feel the Universe conspires against them and if they’re not complaining about the company or the boss it will be about their family, friends or health. They are constantly in crisis mode and every little issue becomes a huge problem. Some of the complaints may be legitimate but the non stop moaning gets on your nerves. Chances are they don’t actually want advice, they're just looking for someone to listen. Try changing the subject when the whining begins. Hopefully they’ll soon get the hint.

Now take a look around you at the people you work with. How many of these personalities can you identify?

What can you do about it?

Unfortunately there is no quick fix. There are however a few fundamentals that you may find useful, the 3 P’s.

  • Pay Attention

Listen carefully and say very little. This will prevent you from saying anything you may later come to regret. These people tend to be attention seekers in different ways so a lack of response on your part will soon bore them and they’ll move on to their next target.

  • Perceive

We all have triggers that lead to more emotional responses. Figure out what makes your blood boil and your temperature rise. When you realise this is happening give yourself a time out. A cooling off period will help you remain uninvolved.

  • Pull Back

Remain impartial and neutral. Don’t allow yourself to get sucked in by these people. A technique you can try is to visualise yourself floating above the scene. Do not allow yourself to be dragged back into the scene. You make yourself a third person, an observer looking down which should help remove the heat from the situation.

Is there anything else?

Just so it’s clear I’m not advocating this for a second, however, here are a few harmless ideas on how you can return the favour of being a lovely colleague...

- Talk loudly on your mobile

- Bring in a smelly lunch

- Chew gum really loudly

- Go to work sick

- Insist on talking about religion and politics

What other type of difficult colleagues have you worked with? Do you have any habits that may annoy others? Please do share. We would love to hear your thoughts and promise not to think of you as a gossip! It will make you the best type of colleague, the selfless and wise one!

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5 Responses

  1. What are you?

    Great blog, Ana, and certainly one I can identify with! I would like to think I am none of the above, but I was always told off in school for being a chatterbox.

  2. An Ex Chatterbox?

    Many thanks for your comments Verity. I am delighted you enjoyed my blog post. Chatterbox at school hey? I have a feeling you have mastered the art of conversation and managed to only keep the very best characteristics of the chatterbox; someone who is friendly and very sociable!

  3. I can confirm…

    … as a friend and colleague of Verity’s, that she is indeed a chatterbox!  But that she is also very friendly, sociable, funny and a great person to have in the office.

    Great blog, Aim to be! 🙂

  4. Which one are you?

    Thanks for your comments Becky. I am really pleased you liked the blog. I think its fantastic that you have described one of your colleagues as a friend too. That is very fortunate! I was also wondering which type of colleague you may be? 🙂

  5. None of the above

    This may seem hard to believe, but I don’t think I fall solely into any of those categories, or maybe I am just not aware of it! Having considered each category though, I can safely say I don’t gossip (outside of what is normal in office life, and I only ever talk to friends about sensitive stuff), I work alone as community manager but could not do my job without my colleagues and the members themselves and pride myself in giving credit where it is due, be that to me or another person who has made a sterling contribution.  I do like to talk about lots of things, and we have a fairly relaxed environment at work (so maybe, like Verity, I am a chatterbox?) and while I do enjoy a good drama, I wouldn’t consider myself a Drama Queen.  

    On reflection, I do agree with your categories, I know plenty of people who fit into them!  But I think there are other types of characters too.

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Ana Antunes da Silva

Coach - Facilitator - Consultant

Read more from Ana Antunes da Silva

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