They’re the people who set your teeth on edge. They are the people you are always ranting about to your significant other. And, while you’d never admit it in public, at least once they’ve driven you to either scream into your pillow or throw back a cocktail after work.
They’re you’re dysfunctional coworkers, and it’s very tempting to write them off as toxic people you need to avoid. But, wait, there’s hope, says Richard S. Wellins, senior vice-president of Development Dimensions International, a Pittsburgh talent-management consultancy.
“Our belief is that 80% of the time, you’re not dealing with toxicity. That’s why we call them difficult employee situations,” says Wellins, co-author of Your First Leadership Job: How Catalyst Leaders Bring Out The Best In Others. By identifying the personality type with which you’re dealing, you can come up strategies for dealing with them—even some of the worst types.
Sarcastic and rude, this coworker never met an innovative concept or idea she couldn’t shoot down within seconds, says workplace consultant Steve Albrecht. He’s deadly during meetings where he can shut down brainstorming and discussion, chilling the conversation and stifling ideas. Albrecht says this personality type is typically burned out and frustrated. This employee may have limited advancement opportunities in their jobs and relies on rejecting opportunities for others to contribute and advance as a defense mechanism.
How to Deal: If you’re a boss or team leader, you’ve got to address the behavior. Sometimes, bringing up the manner in which someone comes across and coaching them to be more diplomatic can help. In other cases, getting to the root cause of the problem—in this case, their frustration or burnout—is the way to go, Albrecht says. Defuse the negative emotion and the behavior will likely improve. Coworkers should ignore them or use positive peer pressure to let them know that they have a right to their opinions without being negative and critical.
If the Walking Dead came to your office, this is what the characters would look like—only with less gore and slightly better fashion sense. This worker is just going through the motions at work, dragging his or her feet with not a sign of excitement in those dull, lifeless eyes. This employee has likely been beaten down by overwork, conflict, or a bad manager, says Wellins. And if you want to get anything more than the bare minimum out of him or her, you’ve got some work to do—especially before the zombie contagion catches on.
How to Deal: Zombies tend to respond well to kindness and empathy, Wellins says. Find out what’s sucking the life out of them and work with them to address it. That may require a shift in responsibilities, a new manager, or even a little time off to deal with personal issues. Look for the zombie’s strengths and reward the behavior you want to see. Get him or her involved in more exciting projects—just watch that you’re not adding to an already too-heavy workload.
It’s all about them. Selfies are overt people pleasers who are adept at shameless self-promotion at every turn, Wellins says. From social media to dominating meeting conversation, they’re competitive and feel as though they’re entitled to perks, incentives, and promotions, even when it’s clear they’re not ready for primetime. They lack emotional intelligence and don’t realize their behavior is working against them.
How to Deal: Give them honest feedback about their behavior and how self-centered they appear. You can be kind in the feedback, but don’t let them steamroll you. Give them reassurance, because this behavior may stem from insecurity, and refocus their competitive natures outside the organization, where the real competition lies.
This employee has been with the company for a while and knows just when to disappear to get out of that boring meeting or assignment. He knows just how much effort keeps him out of hot water, but won’t do much more than that, Albrecht says. When you catch her in the break room, she may make a comment about the “good old days,” when the company had better bosses or policies.
How to Deal: You don’t want to lose their experience, but you’ve got to re-engage them, Albrecht says. Look at where some of their most important accomplishments have been and see if there’s an opportunity to re-engage them there. Remind them of responsibilities and performance measures, perhaps including new methods of accountability, such as having team members report progress to each other weekly on various projects. Coworkers may need to work with their managers if the slacker’s workload starts to shift into their areas of responsibility.
One minute, everything is fine. But stand back a minute later because he’s going to blow. “Volcanoes are unpredictable and volatile with constant mood swings,” Wellins says. That leaves the entire office on edge, and could even risk losing customers who may end up feeling the brunt of a volcano’s outburst or being turned off by his or her nastiness to others. Albrecht says that, in the worst-case scenario, volcanoes can create a hostile work environment and drive other employees away.
How to Deal: Because they’re so volatile, volcanoes can be tough to fix, Wellins says. Companies need to state expectations about how employees will communicate with each other, to ensure that everyone is clear about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, with appropriate disciplinary measures outlined. After an outburst, give the volcano some time to cool down, then revisit the eruptions and determine triggers need to be addressed.