Dealing with a co-worker who behaves badly can be stressful, specially if you cannot talk about it with your colleagues or manager. Photo:iStock

Let’s talk about that annoying colleague

Difficult co-workers can make your work life stressful. Learn to deal tactfully with them

What do you do if your co-worker, a good employee no doubt, is pretty much the worst colleague to have? Do you tell on him/her? Do you take matters into your own hands and get into a face-off? Or do you continue to get harassed and let it go, because peace on the job is more important?

It is important to first evaluate whether or not the person’s difficult behaviour is a pattern or just a one-time occurrence, says career coach Julie Jansen, the author of You Want Me To Work With Who? Eleven Keys To A Stress-Free, Satisfying And Successful Work Life… No Matter Who You Work With, in an email interview. She adds: “Sometimes people behave badly because they are experiencing stress in another part of their life and they do not find it easy to compartmentalize. This said, whether or not someone is talented at their job, bad behaviour or a lack of respect for others should not be tolerated. However, it should be handled carefully and professionally".

While it might be difficult to remember if you are on the receiving end, bad behaviour at work is often a mask to hide one’s insecure self. There is insecurity when one has to put up an act to showcase what one is not. It leads to a tremendous amount of stress on the individual. Bad behaviour is often a release of that tension.

“Complaining about such individuals will only enhance their stress levels, which, in turn, may increase the degree of negativity in the organization. One of the best ways to handle these individuals is to invite them for a conversation and let them open up," adds Surya Prakash Pati, assistant professor, organizational behaviour and human resources, Indian Instituteof Management, Kozhikode.

We presented experts with a few scenarios where colleagues can be unreasonably difficult to work with. Here’s what you can do if you are in the same spot.

# THE IDEA STEALER The one who always takes credit for what you may have thought of or done

When it happens for the first time, it is natural to be stumped. But, the next time in a meeting, be confident enough to wrench the conversation back from the idea-stealer. “The basic idea might be easy to steal/ pitch to others in a meeting. But what is your thought behind that initial idea, or how do you take it to execution is as important as the idea itself," says Anjali Gulati, founder-director of recruitment firm, People Konnect

It can get tricky to draw attention back to yourself in a meeting. But this can be done while answering questions or adding to the initial idea. “Start with lines like, ‘as my colleague was saying’ or ‘as we discussed just before this meeting’, etc. But remember to sound confident. The tone will matter just as much as what you are going to say, especially if your bosses didn’t hear it from you first," suggests Gulati.

# THE KNOW-IT-ALL The one with an opinion on everything

We all know people who simply have to give their “expert views" on whatever is being discussed, These can be well-meaning inputs, but they often do not realize that they make others feel insignificant and small in the process. Aditya Mishra, director and CEO of CIEL HR, a recruitment and staffing agency, believes that they might do this to add humour or have a genuine interest to add value. “However, they need to be told tactfully about the impact they create and the trail of feelings which grip the recipient oddly. Though it’s easier said than done, stay objective rather than letting the sarcasm disappoint you and drag you down. Sometimes, they have valuable inputs that need to be listened to and acted upon." He adds that if the workplace norms treat this as bullying, you might want to draw the attention of the appropriate authorities to these behaviours.

# THE HIDDEN BULLIES The ones who make you do tasks which are not your responsibility

Often, work relationships take on a parasitic form, where one is reduced to a stepping stone for another’s excellence. “Usually, this occurs due to a lack of respect for another’s work or a misplaced notion of privilege. If one has to work with a parasitic colleague, one must insist on frequent team meetings and a written job description," suggests Pati. According to him, agreeing on the required responsibilities in front of the team provides a social legitimacy that would be difficult to breach.

Ketan Kapoor, CEO and co-founder, Mettl, an assessment and skill-measurement company, agrees that it is wise not to let friendliness get in the way of your work. “Always keeping your manager in loop regarding every task that you undertake will scare away the bullies as they like indulging in under the table transactions that can’t be traced back to them," says Kapoor.

# THE GOSSIP KING/QUEEN The one full of those toxic ‘he said-she said’ conversations

Remember that gossipmongers thrive on attention. Kapoor says these people can be handled in two ways: do not share information with co-workers that can be used against you or participate in or encourage gossip about others. “If you see a bunch of people whispering, smirking and pointing fingers, just walk away. Giving attention to gossip is like adding fuel to fire, in the lack of which the latter will anyway fizzle out soon."

How to handle a difficult manager

It is easier to tackle colleagues when they behave irrationally. But if your manager is a jerk, it can get a bit tricky. Try being in direct contact with your super-boss. This can be anything from monthly catch-ups, or water cooler conversations. Let your super-boss know what you have accomplished because your credibility is as important as anyone else’s. While direct confrontation with your manager is not a good idea, if you do see it as a repeated offence, ask to have a conversation and explain your position. But if the boss still continues with this behaviour, then you will have to put your foot down and demand credit for your work, and more cooperation from him or her.

—Anjali Gulati, People Konnect