How to Deal with Your Idiot Co-workers

Friday Feb 2nd 2007 by Eric Spiegel
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If you want to keep your data center running smoothly, you need to deal effectively with the many types of difficult co-workers.

Did you realize it takes 25 minutes to regain your focus after an office interruption? And the typical office worker is interrupted every 11 minutes?

Well, these statistics must be true because I read them in an airline magazine. Okay, maybe not, but I still wish I was armed with this information when I worked with John. He was actually a pretty reliable co-worker. So much so that every day at 10 AM and 3 PM he would appear in my cubicle. No urgent work issue or scheduled meeting – just a chance to chat about sports, celebrities, what funky outfit our manager was wearing. You know, important things sure to improve productivity. Very reliable indeed.

We all have to deal with difficult co-workers at some point in our careers. For some of us this unfortunately is an all too frequent occurrence in our careers. I’m not classifying every difficult co-worker as an idiot. Some are just annoying. Others are just bored. But the fact is that they impact your productivity and could ultimately impact your job security.

There is nothing wrong with eccentric people who add spice to our work lives. I’m talking about people that directly affect your work results and may corrupt your work ethic.

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Here are some of the ways our coworkers interact with their teams and cause us to sigh when we see them coming down the hallway. I have also included my two cents on how to deal with them.

1) Time-Killers – This is how I would classify John. The Time-Killer randomly (or predictably) shows up in your office or traps you by the coffeemaker. They begin to ramble on about something, most likely not the least relevant to work. I’m not saying this is all bad. We need distractions to relieve our minds of work stress. But if these come at the wrong time or too frequently, that’s when we lose productivity.

If you are in the middle of a task, don’t be afraid to ask the person to leave or ask them to join you for lunch when they can have your full attention. I have heard of people removing extra chairs in their office or wearing their earpiece all day to reduce unwanted visits. Or you could be rude and just ignore them. (I’m kidding).

2. Procrastinators – This is the person who in college would wait until the night before a paper was due to start their outline. Some people are wired this way and it’s a hard habit to break. In a team environment, these Procrastinators cause much consternation as deadlines near. Team members frequently have to pitch in and work late to bring a project to close because the Procrastinator hasn’t delivered.

You can’t (and shouldn’t) do their work for them. First and foremost, focus on getting your tasks done. Frankly, management should be setting intermediate goals and holding them to it. If not, try dropping hints and nudge them to get started earlier. Offer to test their code or proof-read their document about halfway through the project. It may be more effective to make this offer at a team meeting to pressure them a bit.

3. Gossipers – Everyone loves a good rumor. That’s why tabloids sell at the grocery check-out line. Same thing applies to the office. Typical rumor ammunition would be office romances, someone quitting, layoffs, etc. I’m no psychologist, but I’m guessing it makes us feel important to be the first to share a juicy tidbit. These creatures are similar to Time-Killers, except they can do much more damage by hurting reputations, or worse, causing someone to lose their job.

Do not enable Gossipers by giving them your time or being influenced to spread rumors yourself. Ask them how they would feel if the shoe was on the other foot. Or you can be rude and ignore them (I’m not kidding).

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4. Blamers – It takes a mature person to take the blame when they make a mistake. If your work culture is not tolerant of risk taking, this may create a more fertile environment for Blamers. Even the most forthright person can be tempted to push blame elsewhere to protect themselves. But a Blamer is someone who constantly sheds responsibility.

Whatever their motivation, you need to protect yourself as well. If you work with a Blamer, make the extra effort to document all your interactions. Keep a CYA email folder to track all correspondence on shared projects. This way you can let the facts speak for themselves. This may seem a bit paranoid, but Blamers justify these tactics.

5. Braggers – There are certainly a variety of less flattering terms for a Bragger. I hope my kids will read my articles some day, so we’ll stay out of the gutter. A Bragger is someone who excessively boosts about what a wonderful worker they are to management, without giving credit to their coworkers. This can cause resentment and friction on the team, especially when done at team meetings or through shared emails.

Tooting your own horn isn’t all bad to bring attention to your contributions. You should do so to balance how the Bragger is influencing your manager. Be careful not to join the Bragger club, by keeping your boosting just between you and your manager – and giving others their due credit. It never hurts to follow up with a question about how you can improve even more next time. Managers eat that stuff up.

Some people would rather let bad behavior go on without opening their mouths for fear of conflict. I completely understand keeping peace in the office might be better than telling a Time-Killer you are always busy or a Gossiper that their antics are not polite. You have to decide what threshold of pain you can take and how negatively they impact your job. Ultimately it is up to management to deal with team members impacting the bottom line.

So move that guest chair into the hall and put your earpiece in so you can work in peace.

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