5 types of problem co-workers and how to (almost) deal with them

Problem co-workers

From "the gossip" to "The bully," here's how to deal with the most common types of annoying co-workers.

It's inevitable - at almost any workplace you will run into "problem" co-workers. Some of these types of problematic co-workers include the negative co-worker, the overly competitive co-worker, the gossip, the bully and the person who pushes off work. Hopefully, your office doesn't have too many of these types of people, but if it does, here's how to (almost) deal with working alongside them.

The negative co-worker
This one always has something negative to say, no matter what. True, it can be helpful to have a critical thinker on the team who plays devil's advocate, but far too often this person is quick to criticize without offering up solutions.

Whenever I think about negative co-workers, I'm reminded of a quote from one of my favorite books, "Bossypants" by Tina Fey. She says, "Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don't just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles." This person does the latter. If you hear someone constantly bringing everyone down by saying, "I know the prospective client isn't going to sign with us," or "We're definitely going to lose that client," you know you're working with a negative co-worker.

How to almost deal: When this person raises problems (and you know they will), ask them for more details. Why won't the client sign? What's going on there? Press them to fully describe the problem and ask them to provide a solution. He/she may raise some valid points, so never ignore what they have to say or write them off.

The overly competitive co-worker
Do you remember the person in class who would repeatedly ask for your notes, yet not return the favor if you asked them for help? This is the grown-up version of that person. Someone who is overly competitive may try to sabotage other people and throw them under the bus. They will climb over others if it helps them get to the top and they may even try to take credit for your work.

Having a competitive co-worker can be an advantage if he/she is competitive in the right way for their industry such as in law, PR or sales. Healthy competition in the workplace can even encourage people to work harder. However, it's a problem if the person is overly competitive with other people at work and doesn't offer to help. A company is a team and everyone should work together to contribute to the success of the organization… But that doesn't always happen.

How to (almost) deal: Competitive co-workers may be insecure, leading them to feel threatened by your success. Try to show this person that you want to work with them, not against them. Collaborate with them, but leave a paper trail indicating that you worked on projects. You don't want him/her to take the credit for your ideas or killer presentation. In the meantime, focus on yourself and doing the best job you can do in the workplace. Don't be derailed by their competitive nature and don't try to engage in it. If most of the people in your company are aggressive, consider if this is the type of environment where you will work best.

The gossip
When people spend time together at work, there is bound to be a grapevine with "the office gossip" at the forefront of it. They want to know everything that's happening and may divulge information you share with them in confidence to others. This person always wants to be in the know and likes to have a juicy story to share. They may ask you questions under the auspices of being considerate or thoughtful, but deep down they may want to use your answers to undermine you.

How to (almost) deal: Don't feed into this person's questions. They may ask who you dislike at work in a roundabout way like, "So what do you really think of Susan's presentation?" If this person tries to engage you in gossip about yourself, your manager, or other co-workers, politely leave the conversation. Tell them you'd rather not talk about it or pretend you don't have any opinions on the subject. Don't get sucked into the gossip. There is a good chance that this person will share what you said with other people and that can have major ramifications.

The bully

Have you ever been the recipient of a mean work email that either made you want to cry, quit or a combination of both? You may be dealing with an office bully. Unfortunately, bullying doesn't end after middle school or high school – bullies can be found in the workplace too. This type of person is downright nasty. He/she will pick on people, blame others or tattle when it isn't necessary to do so. They may be unable to handle confrontational conversations without acting mean and saying something inappropriate.

How to (almost) deal: Personally, I think that the best way to deal with a workplace bully is to try to ignore them altogether. If possible, don't engage with them. If you have to, hold onto the mean emails you get and note the times where their behavior was truly inappropriate. You may have to speak to HR about the situation.

However, keep in mind that if the bully finds out it was you who brought them up, there is a chance that they may retaliate. If your workplace has multiple bullies (or you have to work with them frequently), you may even want to start looking for another job. Dealing with a bully can be psychologically damaging and being miserable each day may affect your work negatively.

The work shirker
If you've ever worked on a group project at school, you know that there is usually someone who pushes off work and tries to get the rest of the team to carry their weight. Unfortunately, this behavior still occurs in the workplace. Someone who pushes off work may ask you to help them or finish their projects, leave before something is finished or try to get out of the assignment altogether. Co-workers who truly need help should be helped, but if this person continually tries to get you to "help" AKA "do all of their work" it might be time to push back.

How to (almost) deal: Speak to them one-on-one and explain the parts of the project you are working on. Show that you need to finish your sections before you can help with another part. At the end of the day, you are responsible for getting your work done and it can be problematic for both you as well as the project overall if you can't finish because you are busy assisting with someone else's workload.

Hopefully, these tips help you deal with difficult people at work, but keep in mind that if you find yourself needing to use the "how to (almost) deal" strategies more often than not, it is probably wise to start looking for a new role. Life's too short to work at a job that is full of (almost) situations.

A version of this article was originally published on Career Contessa, an online platform facilitating honest conversations by real women about work and life—to help you achieve fulfillment and balance in both.