There’s a reason The Office was such a hit show. Most of us can relate to the daily humdrum of the workplace that’s, at times, made more interesting—but also more aggravating—by those coworkers you simply don’t want to be around.
Before you go crazy or leave a job you really can’t afford to quit, Dr. Rick Kirschner, speaker, communication coach, and author of Dealing with People You Can’t Stand, explains some of the behaviors that can make people so difficult to deal with—and how to (discreetly) help them change their ways.
The Pushy Person
This is the coworker who is demanding, intolerant, impatient, closed minded to feedback, and determined to have their way, says Kirschner. Because these behaviors are generally considered disrespectful, we’re often at odds with these types of people.
The Negative Person
This type of person always has an explanation for why your idea won’t work, gets angry but won’t communicate about why, and whines or even possibly pouts. Often, their attitudes skew negative because they just want to get it right and avoid mistakes. But, unsurprisingly, “most people would prefer to work with people who are upbeat, cheerful, and seem to have some sense of purpose,” says Kirschner.
The Disruptive and Distracting Person
Whether this person is having an emotional meltdown, making loud personal phone calls, or talking about things they know nothing about, he or she can be downright obnoxious. Sometimes this coworker can even come off as the office bully, says Kirschner. These behaviors are problematic because most people would rather work with others who are friendly and only speak on matters they’re well versed in, he adds.
The Wishy-Washy Person
This type of coworker says “yes,” but fails to follow through or can’t make up his or her mind in a timely way. Though this person generally just wants to get along, officemates often find this behavior to be irritating, because “people would rather work with—or for—someone who can make up their minds rather than sit there waiting for someone to figure it out,” says Kirschner.
So once you’ve identified the problem behavior, how do you deal with it? Focus on three elements, says Kirschner:
Change Your Mindset
“If you’re already having a flight or fight response when trying to deal with someone, that’s going to create stumbling blocks for you,” Kirschner says. “You’re already in a stress response, so you’re going to be easily provoked.” Instead of assuming your coworker is shutting down all of your ideas because they are inconsiderate, read into their behavior—what causes that response? “People do bad things for what they consider to be good reasons,” he says. For example, that pushy coworker who won’t stop nagging is probably just trying to propel the team forward (albeit ineffectively).
Establish Level Ground
“We call it blending,” says Kirschner. “Blending is about reducing differences and sending signals of similarity. Nobody is going to cooperate with someone who seems to be against them” In other words, acknowledge good intent and send the message that you’re on their side—that you both want to meet this quarter’s sales goal.
Now that you’ve established some solidarity with the offending coworker, take the conversation where you want it to go. One of the most effective ways to do so is to “break the connection to what you don’t want and create a connection to what you do want,” says Kirschner. Tell them the bad behavior is so unlike them—and then tell them how you want them to be, as if they already are. In other words, to a wishy-washy person, you say something like: “That’s not like you! You’re generally the kind of person who gives your word and follows through on it.” “People—more often than not—jump at the chance to be the better version of themselves that you’ve described,” says Kirschner.