Working in a collaborative environment often involves interacting with a diverse range of colleagues. While most coworkers are supportive and cooperative, there are times when we encounter difficult, or inflexible individuals who can challenge our professional growth and productivity. Handling difficult colleagues requires tact, patience, and effective communication skills. In my latest blog post, we are going to explore five types of difficult colleagues commonly found in the workplace and provide tips on how to work with each of them.

The Know-It-All:

The Know-It-All is someone who believes they possess superior knowledge in every situation and aren’t open to listening to other perspectives. They tend to dominate conversations, dismiss others' ideas, and rarely acknowledge their own mistakes. So, how do we navigate this challenging dynamic:

  • Use questions as a superpower - Ask the Know-it-all questions about their perspectives - they like to talk about themselves, to play this to your advantage. They’ll then feel heard, and more likely to be open to the influence of someone else. 
  • Acknowledge their knowledge, and then ask them what other perspectives they also like the sound of. 
  • Stay confident in your own expertise and ideas.
  • Use social proof as an influencing tool with the Know-it-all - show them where and how your ideas, or perspectives have yielded positive returns in the past.
  • Encourage open dialogue and create an inclusive environment for all voices.

The Gossip:

The Gossip thrives on spreading rumours, stirring up conflicts, and creating a toxic or untrusting work atmosphere. Dealing with this kind of colleague requires a delicate approach:

  • Don’t allow yourself to get dragged into the toxicity - gossip thrives on gossip, so if you find yourself in a position where the gossip is ‘tempting’ you with information, find a way to change the subject to something constructive. 
  • Maintain a professional distance while being polite and cordial.
  • Focus on work-related discussions and avoid personal topics.
  • Build a positive network by aligning yourself with colleagues who promote a healthy work culture.

The Slacker:

The Slacker is someone who consistently fails to meet deadlines, shirks responsibility, and relies on others to pick up the slack. To overcome the challenges posed by such colleagues:

  • Ask the Slacker how they like to work - ask them how they like to manage deadlines etc, and then see how you can leverage that in the way you communicate with them around deadlines and expectations. 
  • Document their lack of contribution and approach this with the Slacker if required. 
  • Focus on your own performance and deliver high-quality work to maintain your professional reputation. Don’t be afraid of sharing your milestones along the way with your manager, or key stakeholders so that they can see the progress you’re making.

The Micro-Manager:

The Micro-Manager is characterised by their need for control, excessive supervision, and constant interference in others' work. When working with a Micro-Manager:

  • Show an interest in them and what they have on their plate - show them that you can see how busy they are also, and are here to support them as best you can. This will go a long way to building trust and rapport. Empathy is the antidote for micromanagement
  • Consider how to provide regular updates on where things are at - using the traffic light system is one of my favourites, and ensure your manager is across everything they need to be proactively. 
  • Clarify expectations with them and ask them how they like to work, and how they’d like to work with you. Then, take this opportunity to share how you best work also, and how you think your relationships with them can be even more effective. 
  • Suggest effective ways to streamline processes and demonstrate your competence.

The Negativity Magnet:

The Negativity Magnet exudes pessimism, complains incessantly, and brings down the team morale. To mitigate the negative impact:

  • Maintain a positive mindset and avoid getting caught up in their negativity. If the conversation is becoming negative for a prolonged period, it might be time to flip the switch and focus on some key milestones that have been achieved, or things that are working well, and how do we leverage them further. 
  • Offer support and encouragement when appropriate and where you have bandwidth to.
  •  Ask them for something positive – Now that you have heard what is going on for this person – ask them for something positive they can do about it to take action. Alternatively, if you find you can’t do step one, yet you are still met with regular snide remarks and negativity, use this tip as something you can put on the table. What do I mean by this? Let’s say someone has just completely downloaded a whole heap of negativity in a meeting and the tone of the meeting/catch up has taken a dive - you could lighten things up again by saying something like “Ok… well now that we’ve gotten through all the negatives, there must be something positive we can do with it?”. Look at that person and wait for them to provide a response.
  • Don’t take it personally – it is not about you – This is the most important tip of all. DO NOT take other people’s negativity personally. It is not about you. It is about what is going on for them. Often, when people are dealing with difficulties in their lives, those around them become the targets of their unhealthy coping strategies. Their behaviours manifest out of insecurities, fear and anger, often resulting in outbursts. The most important thing you can remember is that this is about them, not you, so don’t take it personally or take it home with you.

The Bottom Line: 

Difficult colleagues can pose significant challenges in the workplace, but with the right approach, you can navigate these situations and maintain your productivity and professional growth. Remember, it's essential to prioritise effective communication, respect diverse perspectives, and focus on your own performance. By adopting these strategies, you can foster a harmonious work environment and contribute to your own success and that of your team

If you, or your team, need a hand with navigating different working styles inside an Organisation, let’s chat HERE and see how I can best support.