How to Deal with a Colleague You Can’t Stand

You probably work with at least one person who simply gets on your nerves. Although you hate to admit it, interacting with him or her is a struggle, and the person’s actions set you on edge. You dread collaborating with this colleague–and doing so negatively affects your mood and productivity.

Although you may not be able to change the coworker’s personality or annoying behaviors, there are ways to work more effectively with him or her. Here are suggestions for working with four types of annoying coworkers:

The “Complainer”
When this person is given a new assignment or extra work, he reacts as if the boss told him he’d never be able to leave the office again. He makes his unhappiness known through words (“I don’t know why I’m the only one who is given more work!”) and actions (loud sighs and pained expressions). Worse, he searches for sympathy and tries to convince others of how he’s been wronged by the firm. Any enthusiasm you have for your work quickly erodes in his presence.

When dealing with this person, keep the focus on the task at hand. If he complains about a deadline, offer suggestions for meeting it or reiterate the reasons the work must be completed on time. If the Complainer continues to groan and grumble, change the subject or excuse yourself from the conversation. You don’t want to be seen as someone with the same attitude.

The “Bermuda Triangle”
You walk into his office for a quick project update and don’t emerge until hours later–after she’s filled you in on every detail of her weekend with the in-laws. When she stops by your desk, you know she’s setting up camp, and you repeatedly glance over her shoulder, hoping to flag down a passing colleague who can rescue you.

To avoid getting sucked into a long, drawn-out conversation with the Bermuda Triangle, start conversations with her by saying, “I only have a few minutes to talk …” When she strays off topic, explain that you have to get back to work but would be happy to catch up at a later rime. Use email or instant messages as much as possible; these formats make it harder to start–and easier to stop–a lengthy conversation.

The “Evil Genius”
Bring out your suit of armor when you encounter this person. She’s brilliant at the technical aspects of her job, but the finer points of interpersonal communication elude her. Her conversations are always curt, her emails rarely stretch beyond a word or two, and any question you ask her is greeted with a “Why are you bothering me?” attitude.

The best way to deal with the Evil Genius is to modify your communication style to mirror hers. Be very brief and to-the-point in person, and think in bullet points instead of long paragraphs when it comes to email. She’ll appreciate your efforts to quickly give her the information she needs. Also, try not to take it personally. Some people prefer to simply get down to business when at the office.

The “Coaster”
This colleague has an almost magical ability to get away with doing less work than everyone else. The Coaster may be a former star employee resting on his reputation, or perhaps he’s simply very good at appearing busy and productive to upper management.

Whatever the case, it’s not your job to point out that the Coaster has less on his plate than everyone else, as frustrating as this might be. You don’t want to be known as the office tattletale. If his lack of productivity is affecting your ability to do your job, bring the issue up with him–for example: “I couldn’t find you when I needed an answer right away. For future reference, what’s the best way to locate you quickly?” If the behavior continues, bring the issue up with your manager (focusing on specific incidents, and without resorting to generalizations).

Keep your cool
Many times, a pleasant attitude and a few simple steps on your part are enough to help you effectively deal with an annoying colleague. But keep in mind that sometimes your efforts might not be enough. If you continually clash with a particular colleague, or if someone’s actions are significantly affecting your ability to do your job well, you need to involve your manager or human resources representative.

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