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How To Deal With Difficult And Cunning Co-Workers aka Colleagues From Hell!

Updated on June 15, 2014

Don't We All Know One?

The demoralizers, energy sappers or the I am in a hurry to be your leader type, call them by any name. They are in every work environment. Well almost. Very few workplaces are safe from such people. Such colleagues poison the work atmosphere and break up the team spirit, while smiling and acting innocent all the time. And the sad part is, they remain hidden most of the time. Bosses love them and see them as problem solvers, colleagues hate them but are afraid to speak out , fearing they might be branded as unprofessional, insecure and jealous of other's success.

I know because I have suffered first hand the frustration of working with such people! In my career of 5 and a half years, I have worked with many teams. To be precise, 14 . While some teams were big with around 30 people, others consisted of just 2 people, me and a teammate. It is no surprise that it is in mid to large sized teams that you will encounter such people. They hide behind a veil of friendship and professional help, while evaluating how to make use of you to rise up the ladder. How to gain recognition at your expense. How to tag yourself as someone who cannot work independently. How to project yourself as less knowledgeable in front of managers , on the pretext of helping you out.

Initially, I was apprehensive about the impact on my career. I was afraid I would be tagged a non performer. It is at this stage when most people lose it and become mirror images of their oppressor or bully colleagues and start acting like them, competing with other team members and new comers. With time, they become something which they might not have intended to become. I am happy that I overcame that fear and instead of becoming a scheming and plotting colleague, have decided to study such people and compile a list of their characteristics, mannerisms and body language. While it is a work in progress, I want to share with you what I have learnt

My First Brush With A Colleague From Hell

I was unfortunate enough to encounter such a person on my very first job. I was young and naïve and did not know how to deal with it. But I remember very well how it started. Since I was a novice, the work assigned to me was comparatively simple. My manager wished me luck and asked a team member to help me out. And what a help it was! Instead of giving me helpful guidance, I was asked to send a mail at end of day with all my doubts and the work I had done, and he would then send a big mail highlighting the mistakes and advising another way of doing things. And each mail would have a standard phrase. "Try to work more independently and avoid making silly mistakes." This was within 1 week of my joining the team when I was just starting to learn. The mails would go to my managers and other senior members. You might have guessed what happened next. In my half yearly appraisal meeting, I was told to improve, improve and improve. No mention was made about the work I had done, or the effort I had put it.

Luckily, another senior team member volunteered to mentor me. When I was assigned any work, he would first explain me what was expected and how was it supposed to be done. He taught me testing techniques which I could use to validate my work. And it was he who told me - "I don't care what other say about you. Unless you yourself say you are unable to handle it, I won't believe anyone else." These words worked like magic! I proudly say that it was because of him I am what I am today. And I learnt an important lesson from him. Never judge someone based on other's opinions. It is too easy to form a negative opinion. it is very hard to deal with the negative effects.

Toxic Coworkers

Toxic Coworkers: How to Deal with Dysfunctional People on the Job
Toxic Coworkers: How to Deal with Dysfunctional People on the Job

Read about various personality disorders of impossible coworkers. Learn to identify and tackle them. A perfect book to understand complex office politics. It helps readers realize that some office bullies use psychological warfare tactics to meet their own personal agenda. This books gives an extra advantage to bosses to deal with frustrated employees in the correct way and weed out bullies who do not fit in.


How To Identify Such People?

That was not the last time I met such a person. Sometimes I even got "accidentally" excluded from important meetings. But every incident made me more aware of such pretentious figures. I began understanding their modus operandi. Always remember, such a parasitic relation starts with an offer of help. Most people, like me would take it as genuine team spirit. And from there, the downfall starts. But for every such person, there are people who are genuine and understand the true meaning of a team. They never take undeserved credit and give everyone their fair share of credit. As one of my managers said, If you see someone constantly trying to upstage his teammates and always projecting himself as the one and only performer, let him work alone for a month. I fully agree with that!

Now the question is, how to identify such people? From my experience, I daresay I can give the below information

If a co worker is too interested in how you plan to do something rather than being interested in helping you out, its time to ring the alarm bells

If someone is continuously advising you how to do something in a better way( read in a way they want it done), you should analyze the situation

If someone repeatedly interrupts you during a meeting, a presentation or a discussion, saying he has a better way and could guide you, well, you know what kind of a person he/she is

If you find yourself at the receiving end for any mistake at work, that's fine. But if this happens too frequently, you need to find out the truth

If you are doing some work, and a supposedly "friendly" colleague offers to help you out by reviewing your work and then sends out a mail to you AND your manager pointing out mistakes in your work (which by the way is incomplete and you innocently shared hoping you might get some positive feedback), time for you to do a reality check

If you asked for help and your colleague offers you help only when the manager is around, that's fishy!

Some people feel threatened when others join a team. They fear the newcomer might do a better job and they will lose face. It is natural for managers to assign mentors to any newcomer. Unfortunately, if that mentor is someone toxic, be prepared to receive reviews like you are unable to work independently while the truth is that all the good work you do is being passed on as some one else's work. If you are honest in your work but getting feedbacks like your cannot handle a problem independently, time to point the needle of suspicion towards your seemingly honest and helpful mentor.

If you are working with someone and after a discussion on how to approach a problem, your colleague sends out a mail to you starting with "As discussed" instead of "As we discussed", you know you have identified a problematic coworker. In today;s world, mails are powerful tools. Omission of the word "we" in this case implies your colleague worked on providing the solution and you are simply following the advice.

The Bully Free Workplace

The Bully-Free Workplace: Stop Jerks, Weasels, and Snakes From Killing Your Organization
The Bully-Free Workplace: Stop Jerks, Weasels, and Snakes From Killing Your Organization

A great book by the creators of the Workplace Bullying Consulting Institute. A book for managers to identify and stop office bullies from completely destroying a harmonious work environment. this book is blunt in its denouncing of half hearted attempts made to counter office bullying. The authors present their revolutionary way to tackle office bullying and stop psychological damage of employees.


Mean Girls

Mean Girls at Work: How to Stay Professional When Things Get Personal
Mean Girls at Work: How to Stay Professional When Things Get Personal

A guide for women working with women. The book details many potentially volatile situations. What would you do if your colleague accidentally excludes you from an important meeting. Or forms a gang of her own?

The best way to deal with such people is to remain cordial but maintain a distance.

Be assertive in a polite way. Never let anyone take control of your work.

It is useless to fight or have a shouting match with such people. You will end up doing more harm to yourself.

Be distant friends and let them know that you are not someone who buckles under pressure or criticism.

Do not indulge in gossip. Anything you say will be possibly used against you


They Are Smooth Talking!

All office bullies are smooth talkers. If they see you are of some use to them, they will make a pedestal for you. You won't even know when you are being used and exploited. Suddenly one fine day you will realize that all you have been doing was follow the bully's instructions in a hypnotic stage, believing he/she is helping you perform better. But when you realize the truth, sometimes it's too late. You would have already lost your credibility. Once you are useless, the bully will discard you as waste and hunt for a new victim.

Stop The Bullies Midway

The Bully at Work: What You Can Do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity on the Job
The Bully at Work: What You Can Do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity on the Job

Workplace bullying is a destructive and silent force that spells doom for many companies. A very insightful book, it tells victims how to cope with the stress and other psychological wounds that bullying can cause, and even advises legal action in extreme cases. The psychological violence that workplace bullying is completely unveiled in this no nonsense book.


Those Who Are In A Hurry To Become Leaders

Some office bullies have this peculiar problem of being in a hurry to become a boss. They think of them as mini bosses and act like complete dictators. With no reason, they start asking people if they have completed their work. If not, when are they planning to complete it. Why are they taking so much leave as it is hampering team performance. Why are the coming late. And leaving early.

This type of behavior creates resentment among colleagues and only serves to poison the entire work environment. People become disinterested in their work due to this unauthorized micro management and productivity suffers. And most of the people end up blaming their bosses for giving a free hand to such behavior. Yes, it is sad that some bosses see this kind of behavior as readiness of the employee to mature to a higher role and do nothing to understand the ground reality.

What Should A Good Boss Do

It is a difficult journey to become a boss. It is even more difficult to become a great boos. It is like traversing a minefield of human relations and emotions. It takes nerves of steel and patience of the gods to survive in a volatile environment. Here are some of my tips

Treat every employee with respect. They work with you, not for you

It is the duty of every boss to investigate matters of low productivity of an employee. It can be the employee's fault. But it can also be the fault of his mentor who never gave him enough information to do his work properly.

Cases of insubordination should be treated without prejudice. A senior employee should not automatically get the benefit of doubt.

Do not try to take over the entire life of the employees

Do not give in to flattery. Learn to detect subtle flattery disguised as praise

If an employee is not able to work independently, probe if the person supposed to train him did not do so properly fearing his position as the go to person will be toppled

Be a people's manager. Earn respect. Do not demand it

Are We Resources?

Some most difficult colleagues and bullies I have known belong to the HR department. It is not surprising as the department itself spells out that workers are mere resources. Basically I have a problem with the description. Instead of Human Resources, it should be Human Relations Department. I have seen people harassed by the HR department during exit interviews, threatening that release letters will not be issued. I have also known instances where HR officials ganged up with abusive bosses to literally torture employees to quit.


Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace
Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace

Employees do not leave organizations. They leave their managers, colleagues and subordinates. This book throws light into why good employees quit. Learn to identify if some person is being mobbed - which is targeted mental abuse by a person or a group. You might yourself have been a victim of mobbing without even knowing it! Read this book to learn more.


Let Me Know What You Think!

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    • profile image

      Aunt-Mollie 5 years ago

      The world is full of bullies. It's amazing that companies don't realize that bullies in the workplace decreases productions, leads to loss of good employees and destroys employee motivation. In short, it costs companies money. It can also cost financial damages from lawsuits and bad publicity. If bullies are allowed, it comes from the top down.

    • profile image

      Aunt-Mollie 5 years ago

      The world is full of bullies. It's amazing that companies don't realize that bullies in the workplace decreases productions, leads to loss of good employees and destroys employee motivation. In short, it costs companies money. It can also cost financial damages from lawsuits and bad publicity. If bullies are allowed, it comes from the top down.

    • Jogalog profile image

      Jogalog 5 years ago

      I love looking after my daughter at the moment and certainly don't miss all the 'characters' at work and the office politics. It's interesting how some people can be so difficult to work with but great in other situations.

    • choosehappy profile image

      Vikki 5 years ago from US

      I definitely don't miss those people--there were one or two of them when I worked at the hospital. Love working at home!

    • queenofduvetcover profile image

      queenofduvetcover 5 years ago

      I am currently dealing with difficult co workers but I just try to keep away from them and not to let them get to me. And nothing pisses them off more knowing that I don't care. Great lens.

    • profile image

      laurenrich 5 years ago

      If you have ever been employed in the public workplace, you most likely had to deal with difficult co-workers. I know I had my share of difficult co-workers. Thanks for sharing this excellent lens.

    • Axll LM profile image

      Axll LM 5 years ago

      Nothing can make you hate your job more than having to work with someone difficult on a regualr basis. Unfortunately it's a situation that arises more than we would like to think.

    • Onlinemum3 profile image

      Onlinemum3 5 years ago

      I have worked with a few people like this over the years. That is one thing I really don't miss about working in an office! Great lens!

    • profile image

      RockingChairWisdom 5 years ago

      I have had a few of those in my working career. Most of the time I think they felt threatened that I may have had a better handle on the area of responsibility than they did.

    • JohnTannahill profile image

      John Tannahill 5 years ago from Somewhere in England

      "I have also known instances where HR officials ganged up with abusive bosses to literally torture employees to quit." Sadly, this does happen but I also have known HR managers who really do care about people.

    • Brians Secretary profile image

      Brians Secretary 5 years ago

      Having worked with some of these types I can see how people go nuts and end up in fights at work. you can only be pushed so far.


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