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The Five Most Difficult Colleagues (and How to Work with Them)

The Five Most Difficult Colleagues (and How to Work with Them)

Collaboration is one of the most rewarding aspects of working life, and it can be especially rewarding to overcome differences, whether of opinion or of working style. However, from time to time, we all encounter team-mates who test our collegiality to the limits. Truth be told, we all are that team-mate occasionally: part of growing in a professional role is recognising the ways in which you too can be a better colleague.

In the course of developing resources to help organisations tackle interpersonal challenges, we’ve learned that five behaviours are responsible for much of the difficulty people experience in working with certain colleagues. Below we’ve offered an overview of these behaviours, which might be a useful starting point for HRs looking at this issue.

1. The “No” Colleague

The “No” Colleague resists or rejects ideas. They don’t contribute suggestions of their own, and they may even go out of their way to shoot down other people’s. This attitude can be very undermining when a team is trying to generate new ideas or solve a problem.

There are lots of reasons why a colleague might get stuck in a negative frame of mind, and in the long run the underlying reasons for negativity need to be addressed. In the short term, you can counter negativity with positive thinking.

2. The “Yes” Colleague

The “Yes” Colleague is incapable of pushback: they agree with everything, and often end up promising more than they can deliver, or pushing themselves too hard to reach an unrealistic goal.

Motivating this behaviour is often a fear of disapproval, or of losing team-mates’ respect. The key to working with this colleague is to underline that you respect their judgment and their work.

3. The Know-It-All

Know-It-Alls are those colleagues who claim expertise they don’t have, or insist on telling you about the expertise they do have—even when it isn’t strictly relevant.

All Know-it-Alls usually want is to be recognised. Often expressing polite admiration will bring them onboard.

4. The Complainer

The Complainer insists on taking a negative attitude to tasks or situations. This kind of complaining can waste a lot of time, and it’s bad for morale.

Often this colleague just needs to vent, and you can lend a sympathetic ear without taking their complaints seriously. If there is a genuine problem, try to turn the conversation away from complaining and towards possible solutions.

5. The Staller

The Staller puts things off unnecessarily. Unsurprisingly, they tend to miss deadlines. As well as affecting team productivity, stalling can create a lot of resentment in other team-mates.

The emotion underlying this behaviour is often fear—fear that the staller will be unequal to the tasks on their plate. You may be able to tackle stalling by talking the Staller through their plans, and reassuring them that they’re capable of the work they have to do.

Sometimes, a colleague will stall when given a particular task. In these cases, they’ve probably developed negative associations with the task in question. It can be helpful to try and root these out, and replace them with some positive associations.

Of course, there are many other types of difficult colleague, and not everyone will agree with our top five! However, everyone can agree that knowing how to work with the most difficult colleagues is a valuable skill in any role. That’s why we’re pleased to be helping forward-thinking companies to equip their people for interpersonal challenges with engaging elearning resources.

To find out more about our Dealing with Difficult Colleagues courses get in touch today

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