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Office Politics: Dealing With Problem Co-workers

BY Sandy Lindsey TIMEMay 12, 2022 PRINT

We seem to have rules for just about everything these days—except for civility in the workplace. Most employers think it comes down to common decency. However, since you can’t count on that, here are some tips.

The Noisemaker

Loud, disruptive office mates not only make life unpleasant, but they can also affect your productivity. Unfortunately, some offices are noisier than others, so ask yourself if you’re being overly sensitive. If yes, invest in a good pair of noise-canceling earbuds. If the answer is no, politely and nonjudgmentally discuss the matter with them. If you’re feeling hesitant, give an excuse such as an important phone call coming up. If that doesn’t work, go to your supervisor and ask if you can move to a quieter area.

The Know-It-All

Self-confidence is a valuable trait in the workplace, but we’ve all had that co-worker who loves to tell us how to do our job, dismisses our opinions, and just doesn’t listen. In many cases, these people actually think they’re helping us. Acknowledge their contribution, as that’s what they’re after. But if that only empowers them, ask them probing questions on the subject—this is often all that’s needed to shut them down. If not, be armed with your own facts, and they may soon seek out a more receptive audience.

The Gossip

People just love to talk about each other. However, the problem with gossip is that even when it’s not malicious, it’s normally filled with mistakes and assumptions. The office gossip thrives on attention, so be busy when they stop by. If they tell you a juicy tidbit, don’t pass it on. Better yet, find some positive aspects in it. Sadly, good news isn’t as juicy a topic. If you need to discuss a co-worker, do it behind closed doors and do it factually, so that your conversations aren’t perceived as gossip. And keep your private life just that: private.

The Bully

Office bullies might not corner you at the copier and demand your lunch money, but they torment people just like their schoolyard equivalent. First, don’t react. It’s not easy, but you need to develop a poker face and strong body language. They feed on the “drooping shoulders of dread.” Never get emotional. Likewise, don’t argue with them; it will only escalate their behavior. If appropriate, turn to other co-workers for emotional support. Being bullied is a serious situation, so document everything, and if all else fails, take the info to management.

The Boss

Before you start sending out your resume, try to figure out what makes your unbearable boss tick. The more you understand his or her needs and triggers, the easier it is to prevent conflict. Try to become an ally, even a bit of a cheerleader; after all, you’re part of their team. If you’re saddled with an incompetent boss, you may have to take charge without stepping on their toes. Whatever happens, don’t let it affect your work, particularly if you want to move within the company. If you do move on, be sure to interview your next boss carefully.

Sandy Lindsey is an award-winning writer who covers home, gardening, DIY projects, pets, and boating. She has two books with McGraw-Hill.
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