UPDATED ON MAY 25, 2017: Original article published on May 29, 2015.
You know who I'm talking about.
He or she may be the office Whiner, Gossip, Know-It-All, Slacker, Brown-Noser, or your self-proclaimed Best Friend. No matter what the title, you know this co-worker is enough to make you up and quit (or worse!).
First, let's break down why these tactics work on the following Instigators:
THE WHINER: This co-worker is never pleased. He or she complains about management, other co-workers, his or her workload, and everything in between to anyone who will hear it. Why? He/she just wants attention.
THE GOSSIP: Similar to the Whiner, the Gossip will talk to anyone about anything and at any time but, usually, to you when you're the busiest. The Gossip will take up hours of your time talking about everyone else's personal lives. Why? He/she struggles with low self-esteem.
THE KNOW-IT-ALL: This co-worker has to remind everyone that they have had the best education, have the longest tenure, or the like. Why? The Know-It-All believes he/she is under appreciated.
THE SLACKER: The Slacker is the co-worker who got his or her job solely by a connection. This person has only ever followed through to keep his/her job but has never gone out of his/her way to be helpful or contribute to the team as a whole. Why? The Slacker is likely distracted by personal issues or lazy... Most likely lazy.
THE BROWN-NOSER: We all know this co-worker. The self-serving Brown-Noser appears to be helpful but only when it benefits his/her own interest. The Brown-Noser is incredibly annoying because he/she is the teacher's pet, or boss' pet, and gets special privileges or rewards for being overly helpful in a not-so-genuine fashion. Why be a Brown-Noser? He/she is highly ambitious but not a natural team player.
THE BEST FRIEND: This co-worker is so desperate for attention (and affection) that he/she would glue himself/herself to your hip if possible. This person is a huge distraction as well as a pain because the Best Friend is just so nice. Why? The Best Friend is likely struggling with something in his/her personal life and is lonely or depressed. He/she hides it well for a while, but this is a sticky trap posed by a co-dependent person.
So what can you do to tolerate and professionally "handle" your new work pain?
1. Smile and Say "Hello!"
Cliche? Yes. Effective? Definitely. It's amazing what a positive attitude will do for your work week and sanity. The instigators seem to target those who don't seem so happy to see them, so beat them to the punch with a smile and a friendly greeting.
2. Be Helpful
Being helpful is a great defense against the Whiner and the Know-It-All.
Going out of your way to do something for one of these Instigators is a great way to keep them from moseying your way (WARNING! This tactic is not recommended for the Best Friend). The Whiner will have little to complain about (He/she may even sing your praises!), and the Know-It-All will feel like you take them more seriously (than you actually do).
3. Talk Less
You could definitely help yourself when it comes to the Whiner, the Gossip, and the Best Friend.
Maybe the Whiner or the Best Friend really needs someone to talk to over dinner sometime. We all know the Gossip feeds on information, but maybe he/she is having a rough time outside of work is using gossip as a coping mechanism. Talk less and listen more to pick up on clues to what these Instigators are really saying.
4. Say No To Gossip
This should be obvious, especially when it comes to the Gossip.
This is also a very effective tactic for the Whiner, the Know-It-All, and the Best Friend. These co-workers feed off you and your every word. Don't provoke the Whiner with complaints or the Gossip with personal details. Don't encourage the Best Friend either. He/ she will never leave you alone if you feed the beast!
5. Take A Coffee Break
There comes a time for a one-on-one conversation, especially with the Slacker and the Brown-Noser.
Keep the invitation light and pleasant, such as asking for a coffee break or lunch together. Whatever you do, take the conversation away from the workplace. Let them know that there is a problem and that his/her behavior is affecting your work ethic. See if there is an appropriate explanation.
6. Ask Questions
Often conflict in the workplace is simply a misunderstanding. When the lines of communication break and are replaced by stereotypes, we often forget to clarify the issue.
When you're hashing it out with an Instigator, identify that the working relationship is negatively affecting you and ask them to clarify what they think is happening. You can offer up a few solutions, but give the Instigator a chance to contribute to the solution.
7. Get Some Help
Particularly with the Slacker and the Best Friend, getting your supervisor involved is the best approach.
An employer will always be on your side if the Instigator is negatively impacting the workplace (even if it's just your workspace). Be cautious to tattle on the Know-It-All or Brown-Noser because often they are producing more positive results in the workplace than you may know about. Choose your battles wisely.