Careers advice > Life at work > The colleagues from hell - and how to survive them!

The colleagues from hell - and how to survive them!

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We’ve all got one, or had one: a boss or colleague who makes your working day a misery. Whatever the problem, it’s essential to your sanity, wellbeing and performance that you effectively tackle issues with difficult co-workers, so you can continue to shine.

 

 

 

Some faces to look out for:

  • The Backstabber: whether it’s personal gossip or blame for work problems, having one of these in your working life means you need eyes in the back of your head.
  • The Brown Nose: these shameless attention-grabbers make the workplace atmosphere unpleasant. The most convincing can even steal coveted jobs and promotions from more deserving employees.
  • The (deluded) Alpha Male/Female: they might think they’re driven and talented, but they’re not. They’re bossy and just want to be in charge. And if you get in their way, you’ll regret it.
  • The Stirrer: always making trouble, if you’ve got a meddlesome gossip on board, the team will suffer.
  • The Unwelcome Flirt: OK, some people like a little flirting at work, but this guy or girl doesn’t know where to stop. And that's when it becomes harassment.
  • The Lazy One: when someone won’t do their share, both individuals and the team can get resentful about carrying them.
  • The Unhygienic One: in the busy, hot kitchen environment, those in chef jobs would be forgiven for getting a little warm, but some people just plain smell. What will your customers think?!
  • The Misery Guts / Drama Queen: some people are never happy, while others are continually in crisis – and neither are shy about sharing their grumbles with you.
  • The Bully: one of the worst, the bully goes out of their way to upset others and rule the roost.

 

Whether they’re having a go, having a flirt, or having a moan, just don’t get dragged down to their level. Stay calm and don’t get upset or involved in slanging matches. Try to stay neutral by listening carefully and saying little.

Stay cool

Keep an eye on your temper: if a situation starts pushing your buttons, give yourself time out by walking away (but not storming off!). Avoid confrontations and be the voice of reason.

Look for solutions

Bear in mind that the problems you find annoying might be based on some real concern, frustration or problem. But remember: you didn’t make your colleague difficult, and you can’t fix them. If there are accusations, gossip or nasty whispers afoot, openness is the best policy. Talking things through as a team can work wonders, whereas one-on-one muttering breeds dissatisfaction. And getting together to deal with a bully, brown-noser or backstabber can reduce everyone’s stress.

Specific approaches

  • Disarming a Backstabber: approach them and ask them (calmly!) to spell out whatever accusations they’re making, without getting angry or blaming them. Once they know that you’re onto them and you won't sit still for it, they should back off.
  • Taking on a Brown-Nose: steal their spotlight by doing an amazing job and making good suggestions of your own. Nothing will divert the boss’s attention like outstanding work. Just bear in mind a Brown-Nose can quickly become The Backstabber if they feel usurped!
  • Dealing with an Alpha: Stay reasoned and calm but persistent with these people. Push them and they’ll bite back like a cornered rat, so don’t make them defend their position, but ask them to explain it..
  • Personal hygiene: This is really a manager's responsibility — if you complain politely, they should step in. But if it’s down to you, be quick and polite. Go somewhere private and be matter-of-fact and businesslike about what you’ve noticed. If you’re not the only one with a gripe, don’t dwell on it — it’ll save them wondering who else has been talking about them.

If things get out of hand

If you have to deal with serious bullying or harassment of any kind, you should definitely expect help from your employer. Start by dealing with the problem informally, perhaps with an employee representative (like a trade union official), someone in HR, or your manager or supervisor. The next step is a formal complaint using your employer's grievance procedure.

 


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