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Dealing with Difficult Coworkers



Having to work closely with others is an inevitable part of most jobs. While many coworkers are pleasant and collaborative, there are always some “bad apples” who make work life more difficult. From the passive-aggressive slacker to the narcissistic credit-thief, these problematic personalities can drain your energy and make you dread going to work. However, with the right mindset and strategies, you can learn to deal with office jerks effectively.


Today we explore the five most common “jerks” found in workplaces, along with tips on how to manage each one.


The Complainer


The complainer spends every day whining about their job, coworkers, boss, or company. They moan about how much work they have to do, how incompetent everyone else is, and how unfairly they are treated. While an occasional complaint can help blow off steam, constant negativity drags down the whole team.


How to deal: While it’s tempting to avoid the complainer, occasional passive listening without encouraging them can help prevent their bitterness from boiling over. Redirect them to solutions by asking “What could improve this situation?” or “Have you shared your concerns with [person]?” Suggest they reframe negatives into positives.


The Credit Thief


This jerk takes credit for others’ hard work and ideas, often stealing the spotlight just before finish line. They may even blame teammates when things go wrong, dodging accountability. Their self-promoting ways often help them climb the career ladder - at the expense of more deserving colleagues.


How to deal: Protect yourself by emailing key stakeholders when you make progress on joint work, looping in the credit thief. When praising a team effort, name each contributor. If they take undeserved credit in a meeting, politely clarify who did what, focusing just on facts.


The Slacker


This colleague coasts by doing the bare minimum, forcing teammates to pick up their slack. They procrastinate endlessly, miss deadlines, and cut corners - assuming someone else will cover for them. When confronted, they make excuses or promise to do better (which never happens).


How to deal: Set clear expectations for contributions upfront when working together. Cover your own bases by emailing the slacker and manager about missed deadlines or incomplete work. Loop your boss in if there’s no improvement after a direct, constructive conversation with the slacker about specific issues.


The Micromanager


Micromanagers constantly look over your shoulder, overriding your decisions, completing your tasks, and controlling how you do your job. Their hovering presence and constant criticism destroys morale, productivity, and creativity. You feel infantilized, frustrated, and blocked from doing your best work.


How to deal: Have an honest talk defining boundaries and mutual trust. Redirect their input to higher-level goals and strategy while asserting your authority over tactical details. Suggest regular check-ins on shared goals instead of blow-by-blow oversight.


The Egomaniac


This overbearing colleague thinks they’re the center of the universe - and should be the center of yours too. They interrupt you to talk about themselves, dominate meetings, take the lion’s share of credit, and belittle others’ work. You leave every interaction feeling drained, annoyed, and unseen.


How to deal: Set firm boundaries and don’t react to their provocations. Redirect attention to others on the team. Avoid enabling by challenging unfounded criticisms or providing excessive praise. Highlight team goals that depend less on this person or aren’t in their immediate interests.


Conclusion


Dealing with troublesome coworkers requires patience, tact, and persistence. With the right mindset and communication strategies tailored to each difficult personality type, you can often improve these relationships enough to get work done. However, not all office jerks can be neutralized entirely. By protecting your interests, focusing on your own progress, and leaning on supportive colleagues, you can achieve your goals with minimal stress and drama - no matter who you work with.

 

Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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