No one job title or occupation is the same, but the difficult coworkers you run into in any given field tend to be remarkably similar. Their eye roll-inducing behavior (gossiping, micromanaging) may not always be worthy of an HR report but it still slows down workflow and peeves others in the office.
Below, therapists from around the country reveal the types of colleagues their clients complain about most and share the actionable advice they give for dealing with each.
You all hate the temperature in the office and your laughable company holiday schedule, but the constant complainer seems to take a distinct pleasure in ranting about it. If you need to shut them down so you can get back to work, Los Angeles-based therapist Amanda Stemen suggests offering solutions to problems the person brings up. Then, if the problem is legitimate and solvable, hopefully you’ll never have to hear about it again.
On the flip side, if it isn’t a legit problem, “the negative co-worker will usually stop complaining when they realize you’re a problem solver and not the type to indulge their behavior or listen,” she told HuffPost. “If the negativity continues, I remind my clients they can always make a quick escape by telling their co-worker, ’Sorry but I need to return to my work.”
When this high-level coworker leads your company’s quarterly meetings, you sit there stunned, thinking,“How, exactly, did this person get their title when others here are so much more deserving?” Issues involving under-performing superiors are among the most common complaints psychologist and executive coach Kate Snowise hears about it her office.
“This is the person in the office who spends most of their time keeping up the appearance of knowing what they are doing,” she said. “It might mean a lot of shuffling paper and smoke and mirrors, but many of them are very good at looking like they’re valuable.”
Her advice? Be respectful of the person while looking for effective, appropriate ways to work around them.
“Ask yourself: Is there another leader in the organization who you could use as an informal mentor? Or is there someone else that could help you navigate your frustrations or concerns?” she said. “If that doesn’t feel like an option, you can always sit tight. The incompetent superior typically self-combusts and in my experience, will either end up leaving or getting moved sideways.”
You can always count on this person to keep you clued in on the extracurricular activities of everyone in the office: your coworkers’ secret one-night stand, the new guy’s alcohol-filled Instagram feed. To curb their endless chatter and gain back your time, Southern California-based psychotherapist Tina Tessina recommends putting this coworker in “an adult time out.”
“Basically, retreat to polite, businesslike responses but be very low-key about disengaging,” she said. “If the person comes to your desk with gossip, say: ‘I’m sorry, I’ve got a deadline to meet.’ And keep on working. You don’t need to be friends with everyone in your office.”
It’s 8:45 on a Saturday night and you receive a work email from your manager when the request could clearly wait until Monday. The controlling behavior doesn’t end there ― they’re constantly asking for updates on projects and wanting to be CC’d on everything.
This behavior inevitably creates an atmosphere of distrust in your office and negatively impacts staff morale and productivity, said Alena Gerst, a psychotherapist based in New York City.
“Often, micromanagers are exhibiting a lack of trust but sometimes, they don’t even know they’re doing it,” Gerst said.
The best way to handle your office micromanager is to demonstrate, to your fullest ability, your competency. After all, you were hired or promoted for a reason.
“Don’t let your supervisor walk all over you, but show that you are thorough and trustworthy, and remind them verbally if need be, so they can learn to give you the room you need to do your job,” she said.
This colleague has a knack for sending tersely worded emails (sometimes, IN ALL CAPS to highlight the urgency of their request) and generally communicating in a way that leaves others feeling annoyed or hurt.
When dealing wiith a blunt communicator, Snowise recommends addressing them face-to-face whenever possible.
“Email, text and online messaging are apt for misinterpretation, and people often forget to add the niceties they would in a normal conversation,” she said. “So if you know you’re dealing with a blunt communicator, try and keep the majority of your communications face-to-face or over the phone.”
If you could leave Yelp reviews for people, you’d have this to say of the office slacker: “I would give this person zero stars!” Complaints about lazy colleagues are some of the most common and persistent, said Jose Sandoval, a psychologist in Miami, Florida. Unfortunately, the problem usually can be attributed to the complainer, too.
“Many clients complain but they often engage in self-sabotage by performing tasks that are beyond their job responsibilities to compensate for the slacker,” he told us. “I try to help people improve their assertive communication skills and usually recommend they seek a solution by involving someone at the administrative level, who may be able to delegate specific responsibilities.”
This coworker subtly ― or not so subtly ― takes credit for your work and oftentimes asks for your help and never reciprocates. Tessina’s advice for dealing with this and similarly jerky behavior? Learn to stop being so helpful.
“Unless this person is your boss, say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m too busy to help you right now’ or ‘I’ll do this for you if you do that for me.’ Then wait until they do what you want before you do what they want,” she said. “And if you do work they take credit for, write an email stating the work you did before you give it to them, then you have proof that the ideas came from you. This works even with a boss.”