TCG 411: Coping with Complaining, Curt & Coasting Coworkers

Dealing With a Difficult Colleague

By Donna Farrugia, Executive Director of The Creative Group

Chances are, you work with at least one person who grates on your nerves. Throughout my career, I’ve certainly come across individuals whose actions have set me on edge. But learning how to get along with these “problem employees” is crucial – not only in terms of remaining level-headed and productive during the workday, but also for enjoying a successful long-term career.

You may not be able to change your coworkers’ personalities or annoying behaviors, but there are ways to work more effectively with them. Following are three common “problem employees” and tips for working with each:

  • The Whiner. When this person is given a new assignment or extra work, he reacts as if the boss told him he’d never be able to leave the office again. He makes his unhappiness known through words (“Why am I the only one who is given more work!?!”) and actions (loud sighs and pained expressions). Worse, he searches for sympathy and tries to convince others of how he’s been wronged by the firm. Because of these actions, any excitement you have quickly erodes in his presence.

When dealing with this person, focus on the task at hand. If he complains about a deadline, for example, offer suggestions for helping meet it or reiterate the reasons the work must be completed on time. If he continues to grumble and groan, change the subject and excuse yourself from the conversation. You don’t want to be seen as someone with the same attitude.

  • The Straight Shooter. This person is brilliant at the technical aspects of her job, but her interpersonal communication skills definitely need work. Her conversations are always curt, her e-mails rarely stretch beyond a word or two, and any question from you is greeted with a “Why are you bothering me?” attitude.

The best approach when dealing with this person is to modify your communication style to mirror hers. Be brief and to the point, and think bullet points instead of long paragraphs when it comes to e-mail. She’ll appreciate your effort to quickly give her the information she needs. Also, try not to take it personally. Some people prefer to simply get down to business when at the office.

  • The Coaster. This colleague has a near magical ability to get away with doing less work than anyone else. The Coaster may be a former star employee resting on his reputation or a person who is simply good at appearing busy and productive to upper management.

Whatever the case, it’s not your job to point out that the Coaster has less on his plate than everyone else, as frustrating as this might be. Being the office tattletale will only harm your reputation. If the person’s lack of productivity is affecting your ability to do your job, bring the issue up with him. For example, “I couldn’t find you when I needed an answer right away. For future reference, what’s the best way to locate you quickly?” If the behavior continues, bring the issue up to your boss.

Many times, a pleasant attitude and a few simple steps on your part are enough to help you effectively deal with an annoying colleague. But keep in mind that sometimes your efforts might not be enough. If you continually clash with a particular colleague, or someone’s actions are negatively impacting your on-the-job effectiveness, you need to involve your manager or human resources representative.

Donna Farrugia is executive director of The Creative Group, a specialized staffing service placing creative, advertising, marketing and web professionals with a variety of firms. More information, including online job-hunting services, candidate portfolios and The Creative Group’s award-winning career magazine, can be found at