Greg ClarkeHow to play nice when the workplace is less than friendly
Every schoolyard has a few "difficult" kids whose misbehavior ruins playtime for everyone else. Office life isn't much different. Standard issue with the stapler and the paper clips come certain workplace types who didn't get the how-to-behave memo (or, more likely, made a paper airplane out of it). These coworkers can interfere with your productivity, offend your sensibilities, derail your career, and, worse, prevent you from leaving on time.
Much as you might like to crawl into your cubicle and ignore troublesome coworkers, at some point confronting them may be your only option. But first be sure the situation really requires a draw-a-line-in-the-sand discussion. If it does, speak to the person in private, and remember that your goal should be to improve things for the whole office. And try to keep your emotions in check so that you can have a reasonable, productive discussion.
There are nine aggravating workplace personalities on the following pages, with tips from etiquette and workplace experts on managing them. See anyone you know?
The Clueless Overling
How He Disrupts Your Day: He uses smoke and mirrors to look productive, but everyone knows he doesn't do anything -- except cause mini-emergencies with his meddling. Your productivity suffers, too, because you're constantly performing triage.
Best Way to Finesse: The only job you need to salvage in this situation is your own. "Let (his self-sabotaging behavior) take its course," says etiquette expert Margo Howard, author of Slate's Dear Prudence column (www.slate.com). The boss's follies will eventually attract the attention of top people at the company, and with luck they'll make a change. But if things are unbearable and a change seems far off, you may have to seek out a boss in another department or even another workplace. "If this person is that clueless and you're on his or her coattails, your career could be in danger," says career coach Marjorie Brody, author of Career MAGIC: A Woman's Guide to Reward & Recognition (Career Skills Press, $25, www.amazon.com).
Learn How to Say No from Real Simple.
How He Disrupts Your Day: Because you're a nice person, you often end up covering for this guy, which means his shortcomings don't get exposed. That makes the ball-dropping snowball, ensuring that you'll have even more messes to clean up. You feel exploited and burdened by an unfair workload.
Best Way to Finesse: Fire a warning shot. "Explain that you were happy to help until now but that you can't do it anymore because your own work is suffering," says Howard. If that doesn't fly, suggest a meeting with your mutual supervisor, if you have one, to address both your workloads. "If you continue to pick up the extra work, your stress level will become intolerable," says Peter Post, director of the Emily Post Institute, a coauthor of The Etiquette Advantage in Business: Personal Skills for Professional Success (HarperCollins, $27, www.amazon.com), and the author of Essential Manners for Men (HarperCollins, $22, www.amazon.com).
The Belittling Boss
How He Disrupts Your Day: He seems to think that hasty criticism is an effective management technique. He takes any opportunity to grill you in front of others until he finds a weak spot to exploit.
Best Way to Finesse: "Ask, in private, where the doubt is coming from," etiquette expert Margo Howard says. "There might not be an answer." Explain that the constant unconstructive criticism is having a deleterious effect on your output. A simple "Tell me what I need to be doing" should help clarify things, says author Marjorie Brody.
See Real Simple's How to Recover From Verbal Blunders
How He Disrupts Your Day: This person pumps you for ideas, then takes credit for them. He always wants to brainstorm with you, pen and paper in hand.
Best Way to Finesse: If a coworker poaches your idea in a meeting where you are present, immediately pipe up, author Marjorie Brody advises. Say, "I'm so glad Bob picked up on what I mentioned. Bob, thanks for recognizing my idea." If you hear about the theft only after your little gem has been presented and approved, Brody suggests sending an e-mail to your manager (unless he's Bob, the credit-swiping boss) with a line like "I'm glad Bob picked up my idea and was able to run with it. Let me know how I can help." After that, just let it go.
The Best-Friend Wannabe
How She Disrupts Your Day: She asks if you have lunch plans at 9:15, then 9:30, then 10, 10:30, 10:45.… And how about a drink after work? Brunch on Sunday?
Best Way to Finesse: "You should not be held hostage to somebody else's wishes or neuroses," says etiquette expert Margo Howard. Just because your coworker wants or needs constant companionship doesn't mean you have to provide it. Explain that you have obligations elsewhere, or say you've made a rule to go straight home after work. "If you open that door, you're in a worse situation than before," Howard says. "Do whatever it takes. People catch on after a while."