For the past two years, my “difficult coworker” has been a thorn in my side since I started. About a month into starting this job, I experienced my “difficult coworker’s” bad attitude in addition to dealing with manipulative and bitchy remarks and tactics to make me look bad in the department. After a while, despite valid complaints, I was told by my supervisor to “live and let live.”
If you’ve ever worked around this type of personality that will not leave you alone and are constantly finding ways to make you look bad, you will know “live and let live” is near to impossible.
There are tactics though that I have learned – often the hard way – to make your work life manageable. The type of office environment where this particular type of attitude is allowed makes office politics an Olympic event. You need to be smart, quick, and learn who your enemies are.
Here are five tips I can pass along when you are working around a manipulative coworker.
1) Know that upper management doesn’t want to hear your complaints.
Unless your coworker violates policy or out-and-out harasses you, your boss doesn’t want to hear it. I learned this the hard way. The downside is that if you DO bring office politics issues to your boss, more than likely, YOU will soon become the difficult party (not playing well with others, etc).
I wouldn’t recommend suffering in silence, though. It will only make the behavior worse. Sometimes simply asking your boss their opinion on how to deal with a difficult matter (concerning this person) it’s enough to spotlight the difficult personality in the room. This is also showing you are willing to deal with this person without making it a huge deal, but that you need some help or advice (i.e. willing to play with others).
You may find that your boss DOES want to step in or that your boss will confirm that “this difficult person” is KNOWN to be difficult. You want this conversation to happen. So I wouldn’t run off and tell your boss so-and-so is being mean, but say instead that you are having a problem with how so-and-so is dealing with a certain issue and don’t know how to approach the matter.
2) Attempt to resolve the conflict directly (in some fashion).
In my experience, the difficult coworker isn’t just difficult with one issue. I mean, sure, everyone has their touchy areas at work or territorial attitudes about some things, but this particular type of personality is relentless. Once you feel like ONE thing is resolved, they find something else to be a pain in the butt about.
So, while I hate being confrontational, I would recommend TRYING to have a conversation with this person about what you are having a hard time with. Sometimes clearing the air will let you know if this is just a specific scenario or if it’s really their overall personality.
Also, this is important to figure out, because your boss will want to know you have tried. And when you discuss this with your boss, you can use OTHER scenarios where you’ve tried to handle it directly with this difficult coworker and the results of those attempts. This will further prove why you need your boss’ input on “how” to deal with this personality.
For my situation, I learned pretty quickly that direct confrontation only made the matter worse. And I also couldn’t go directly to my boss after figuring THAT out the hardway.
This leads me to # 3…
3) Observe their interactions with other people, but don’t gossip.
This person will have friends in the office. I promise. I am a bit of a blabbermouth in terms of needing to vent difficult situations to SOMEONE, ANYONE at times. I learned not everyone wants to hear it and (gasp) someone may actually LIKE the very person giving you a hard time. ALSO, fellow coworkers will want to use your difficult situations as a way to boost their relations with the difficult coworker (if you are the black sheep in the department, that means THEY are not the black sheep).
Be smart. Observe their interactions with others. You can usually spot in your department the person who avoids chatting with your difficult coworker. Also, take advantage of moments when you DO see someone having a hard time. Be THEIR listening ear. I know this sounds awful, but by using their hard time, you will get someone on your side.
4) Choose your battles.
It can be very easy to sucked into their game and get you very competitive and ruthless in your attempts to supercede their status in the department. Don’t do it, because this can blind you from your own career goals. Don’t work 10 hour days for a promotion you ONLY want, because this difficult coworker does too.
Sure this person may shoot you dirty looks across the room when you meet their eye, but you don’t have to confront every instance of it.
5) Don’t let them silent your voice.
I’ve had experiences where my difficult coworker ended up taking an idea that I had first shared with her. That was a bad mistake. I’ve also had situations where my coworker shot down ideas for no other reason but to disagree with me. It’s a manipulation tactic to silence your opinion. It’s never completely obvious but you will know when it happens to you.
I’ve learned the hard way to speak up first to the entire department OR implement the idea without including this coworker at all. No, they won’t like it. Yes, they’ll try to find ways to get back at you. But it’s important you don’t hide away your voice at work just because this person doesn’t like you. The second they realize they can silent you, it will only get worse.
I’m still learning of course, but the best thing I’ve learned from this job is how to deal with a manipulative, difficult coworker.
What are your experiences dealing with a manipulative coworker? Do you have any tips on how to handle a manipulative coworker? Any lessons learned the hard way?