Concerning Co-workers: How to Deal With Your Most Troublesome Colleagues

Robert Half International

What do prairie dogs, credit thieves and slackers have in common? They're all types of co-workers who can undermine your efforts at work. And, unfortunately, these personalities are prevalent in many offices. In fact, according to a recent Robert Half survey, nearly one-third of professionals said they work with someone who is rude or unprofessional on the job.

Your relationships with co-workers can directly affect your on-the-job satisfaction -- and career success -- so treat everyone as professionally as possible, even those who may rub you the wrong way. Here are some examples of difficult colleagues you may encounter in the office and suggestions on how to best cope with each of them:

The Belittler

Belittlers routinely tear others down in order to build themselves up. Put-downs, demeaning remarks and disparaging comments are common trademarks of this person.

Coping strategy: Your confidence is the Belittler's weakness, and he or she will back off if you stand up for yourself. Try refuting a Belittler's criticism by asserting yourself, using facts where possible. For example, if he or she puts down one of your ideas, say, "It's something that's worked for X, Y and Z, and it also is more cost-effective than what we're doing now."

The Credit Thief

Insecure about their status, Credit Thieves boldly steal your ideas and grab the glory when a project is successful. Curiously, they're nowhere to be found when things go wrong.

Coping strategy: Keep a written record of your activities and accomplishments, and give your manager regular status reports about the projects you're working on. And don't hesitate to correct misperceptions. ("Actually, I did the research; John helped input the data.")

The Noisemaker

Be it making long personal calls, forgetting to silence their cell phone ringers, playing music or talking with others using their "outside voice," Noisemakers can't help but disturb others.

Coping strategy: Do your best to insulate yourself from the sound. If you have a private office, close your door. If you work in a cubicle, try putting on headphones or moving to an empty office where you can concentrate in silence. If the situation persists, speak to the person and kindly ask him or her to keep the noise down, explaining that it's preventing you from getting your work done.

The Saboteur

Saboteurs have a knack for leaving colleagues in the lurch. Similar to Belittlers, they like to make others look bad. Their tactics aren't always overt, so you may not realize you're working with a Saboteur until a critical deadline arrives. That's when you discover you're unable to complete your part of the project because the Saboteur has withheld important information.

Coping strategy: Be sure your supervisor or project manager knows the roles and responsibilities of each team member, and insist on regular progress reports so that Saboteurs can't take advantage of lapses in oversight.

The Rumormonger

Rumormongers like drama and often spread half-truths or lies by talking behind others' backs. This is an especially dangerous type of co-worker because he or she has the ability to tarnish your reputation.

Coping strategy: The best defense is to avoid engaging in any kind of mean-spirited gossip. Remember, if you can't say anything good, don't say anything at all. If the Rumormonger starts swapping stories with you, avoid falling into the trap and instead excuse yourself as quickly as possible.

The Slacker

This person may try to pass off tasks to other staff members. The Slacker often claims he or she is "too busy" to help out, yet will make time for long chats and Web surfing during office hours.

Coping strategy: If you lead a project team, be sure this person carries his or her weight by documenting the responsibilities of each member of the group and asking for regular status reports. Hold everyone accountable for their portion of the project, and be firm with deadlines.

The Prairie Dog

There's nothing quite as distracting -- or, at times, alarming -- as when an individual pops his or her head over your cubicle wall, seemingly out of nowhere, or drops by your desk unannounced. It typically happens when you're on deadline or just about to write down a brilliant idea.

Coping strategy: Let the person know that, while you'd like to talk, you have a lot to do at the moment. If possible, schedule another time to meet, such as during lunch or after work. And, to prevent further interruptions, consider hanging a sign outside the entrance to your workspace, notifying people that you're busy and when you'll be available again.If one of these descriptions reminds you of yourself, it might be time to re-evaluate your own behavior and adjust it as necessary. Remember, when it comes to working in an office environment, the more you respect others' time and space, the more likely they'll be to return the favor.

Next: 10 Least Wanted Co-Workers >>

Robert Half International is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 350 offices throughout North America, South America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. For more information about our professional services, please visit

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