If you have been working for at least five years, odds are you’ve had the experience of working alongside difficult people at work. Some of these personalities may look familiar to you:

  • The chronic gossip – thinks the office grapevine is Entertainment Tonight; pumps co-workers for juicy information to spread to others; believes the only good secret is an exposed secret.
  • The office hothead or complainer – climbs onto his/her soapbox at the slightest ruffle of feathers; incites public outrage to justify his/her anger.
  • The incompetent – isn’t getting work done for whatever reason; constantly asks others “how” to do or “where” to find things; resembles a deer in headlights when asked to do actual work.
  • The liar – tells so many tales he/she can’t keep them straight; uses lies to avoid blame landing at his/her doorstep.
  • The back-stabber – smiles to your face and tells others how evil you are; takes credit for your work; can only feel good about self when sinking another’s ship.

When managing or handling lousy co-workers, remember one thing: You cannot force people to change. You can only change how you react or respond to others.

So, take heart. There are actions you can take to improve your interpersonal relationship with these individuals and/or limit your exposure to them.

1. Air the issue.

Maybe you misread a situation, or maybe not.

The point is if you seek a mutual resolution to one specific issue and want to keep this individual as a possible work friend, then it’s best to have a private conversation with your co-worker the first time the issue occurs.

Try to keep emotion out of it. This is about their specific behavior, its effect on you, and proposing a solution.

For example, if a complainer targets you, you might smile and say, “I’m under deadline most mornings.

When you stand at my desk wanting to talk, it’s hard for me to focus. Maybe we can plan to do lunch together.”

2. Avoid the individual.

If the office gossip is buzzing around your desk, smile and tell her you have a deadline that requires your attention then lower your head and get to work.
Once she realizes you won’t join in her gab fest, she’ll move on to another target.

If the office backstabber is working his magic to make you look like the incompetent or useless employee, fight back by doing your work and doing it exceptionally well.

He’ll have nothing to back up his nasty comments if you are productive and careful with your work.

How to Handle Lousy Co-workers

Make note that avoiding a person is not the same as ignoring someone. You want to project an image as an efficient, knowledgeable, dependable team player at work.

3. Document the behavior.

This works especially well in the case of an incompetent employee who is not getting his/her work done or is constantly asking you “how” to do something.
Send the individual an email suggesting training.

If your company provides internal skill training, that’s ideal. If not, suggest a couple of online or local seminars, but do it through email.

The point is to create an electronic trail of the individual’s constant requests and you being supportive and helpful.

If the individual’s problem isn’t lack of skill but lack of motivation to work and his/her laziness impacts your ability to get work done, discuss your concerns with your supervisor.

Your boss doesn’t want anything getting in the way of you being productive at work.

4. Report the problem.

If lousy co-workers are consistently trying to draw you into their gossip or public airing of complaints, talk to your supervisor about the distraction.

Show the documentation or proof you have. Cite specific examples and how it is impacting your ability to work effectively.