Colleagues can be the blessing or the bane of work life. Sometimes you find your best buddies sitting nearby, making life in the office a breeze and enhancing your social life outside of work, too. But like family, you can’t choose your team (unless you’re the boss!)—and sometimes you’re stuck with duds or difficult co-workers.
One variety of co-worker you’d rather not spend extra time with is the overpowering one. You know the kind—pushing to be noticed, treading on toes, even taking credit for other people’s ideas or work. It’s frustrating and infuriating, and if you bring it up, you may look like the bad Ninja. Bummer.
Unfortunately, this is more than just speculation. One of your fellow Ninjas describes her situation like this:
“We have a new assistant—who went from temp to perm—and this person is over ambitious, throwing people under the bus every chance she gets, stepping on toes, and making us want to forego all communications. Of course, her lead manager happens to report to my manager, so I have to deal with her all day long. I’ve tried helping numerous times, guiding, advising, basically playing very nice in the sand—but it’s becoming more and more difficult.”
All offices are different, but when we turned to the Ninja community to handle tricky people issues, we got a few common answers.
Turn Difficult Co-Workers into Comrades
Executive Assistant Carrie M. suggests lightening the mood by approaching your politeness like its a game.
“Treat her like you would treat an executive you don’t report to. When she’s rude to you, be overly polite to her. I would go to the level of obnoxiously nice. Make a game of it!”
If kindness doesn’t kill the bad behavior, Carrie suggests a mental trick. Thinking about how you might treat that colleague who is terminally ill. Would that make you more kind, patient, and forgiving? Probably so.
And hey, who knows what’s going on in a co-worker’s life? If your hard-to-handle colleague is a newbie, she may be a bit short on office friends. By at least appearing to be welcoming and understanding, the tension may subside as you’re viewed more as a teammate than an opposer.
Have a Hard Conversation
If being nice doesn’t work, opt for some tough love. Find a constructive way to provide feedback. It might be tricky—the person could be defensive and may get upset if they feel their character is being criticized.
At the same time, the person may be completely surprised. Perhaps she was trying to be assertive and confident, but it came off as pushy. In the case of the scenario above, temp-mentality could totally be to blame—especially if that Ninja felt she was still trying to prove she belonged on the team.Administrative Assistant Katie N. suggests providing feedback along with examples. Giving someone a specific incident to recall is much more effective than referring to vague occasions.
“Feedback is truly a gift as it allows each of us to get a little bit better as teammates and professionals.”
Loop in Leadership
After taking the high road and opening lines of communication, there aren’t many options left. Secretary Carolyn M. has a very diplomatic suggestion to bring the conflict up with a boss. Best of all, her strategy doesn’t reveal any names.
“Do you have any pointers on dealing with someone who is trying to get ahead at other’s expense?”
This question is powerful for two reasons—it sheds light on the boss’s line of thinking and gives you another strategy to try before officially putting your difficult co-worker in the spotlight.
“If the boss asks who it is, you can say you were just asking in general, about someone outside the company. I’ve had to do this and sometimes it helped get a better perspective on how to be tough but fair… As long as you’re not finger-pointing, most bosses will listen and give you an idea or two.”
If you’d rather not ask your direct manager about something so telling of team relations, you could meet with the person who hired a given colleague. Virtual Assistant Melissa S. recommends this approach to get a better view of the big picture.
“I would go to that person and ask what qualities, skills, and potential they saw. If I know what her strengths are and play to those, maybe we can build rapport and go from there. In my experience, the person was being groomed for another position and needed to have their foot in the door.”
Weighing & Waiting
If you try all of the above—and more—with no success, you need to weigh how heavily this person is affecting the other employees. Quirks and the occasional bad attitude may end up flying—but blatant bad behavior is bound to get noticed. An anonymous Ninja shared that this was the case on her team.
“A person got a slight promotion and all of a sudden began acting without regard for the team. After several coaching conversations, she isolated herself. Eventually, she decided to leave the company. This shook up our tight-knit team and prompted us to re-evaluate job duties and transparency.”
Based on this example, any outcome has the potential to immunize the team against bad hires in the future. Spinning the bad into a benefit is classic Ninja behavior—so use each experience with a difficult co-worker to shape or influence hiring in the future. Hopefully, refining the process and calling on former scenarios with lots of friction will not only improve your life, but your team’s as well.
Ninjas, have you ever had an overpowering co-worker? What happened?