The emotionally intelligent way to deal with 5 types of coworkers

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For most people, work takes up a huge chunk of their time. Americans, in particular, tend to work longer hours than their peers in other developed countries, according to OECD data. For the nonremote and nonsolo workers, spending a lot of time at work equates to spending a lot of time with your colleagues. So when one of them has annoying or destructive habits, you want to identify them early on and figure out how to deal with the issue in an emotionally intelligent way. Here are some steps to follow, based on personality type:

1. The egomaniac coworker

This colleague seems incapable of giving others credit and constantly wants to hog the limelight. In a meeting, they will shut down other people’s ideas and insist on why their ideas are better, even when everyone else thinks otherwise.

Your colleague may be an egomaniac or a narcissist. Because individuals with these kinds of characteristics are prone to putting people down to make themselves feel better, it’s tempting to get defensive and tell them why they’re wrong. But that’s not going to help the situation, and it definitely won’t stop them from doing it in the future.

So what can you do? Rather than stroke their ego or ignore them altogether, clinical psychologist Craig Malkin previously told Fast Company that a better way is to “catch” and acknowledge them when they display good behavior. Say they bring you coffee one day when they know that you have a pressing deadline. “It’s way more effective to pay attention to those moments and encourage them. You can say, ‘Thanks for offering coffee. I feel like you’ve got my back and I want to press harder,'” said Malkin.

2. The gossiping coworker

Unfortunately, gossiping doesn’t stop after middle school. It’s human nature to gossip. According to a 2019 study, people spent an average of 52 minutes a day gossiping (out of the 16 hours that they are awake).

A little bit of gossip may be harmless, but when it crosses the line to rumors and unnecessary drama, it breeds negativity and drains your emotional energy. It can also make employees suspicious of one another because they have trouble discerning who to trust and who will spread unsavory rumors.

There are several ways to deal with office gossip. In a previous article for Fast Company, Lisa Evans suggests surrounding yourself with a positive crowd rather than those who have the tendency to “sniff out” gossip. If you do find yourself inadvertently interacting with an office gossip, you can either leave the conversation or challenge them on the accuracy of the information.

Evans wrote, “Asking, ‘How do you know that?’ can help you to determine if the conversation is one of gossip or one of fact-sharing. Asking questions like this also helps to position you as a person only interested in sharing factual information, not as someone who is interested in having a conversation around speculation and gossip.”

3. The eternal pessimist coworker

Every job has its downsides, and there’s nothing wrong with openly acknowledging what they are. But there’s a difference between pointing something out with the intention of changing things for the better and looking for reasons why everything is terrible.

The eternal pessimist, or the chronic complainer, does just that. It may just be one person, but their energy has the potential to influence the whole office. As Gwen Moran previously wrote for Fast Company, there are many possibilities for individuals to behave this way. They may feel like they’re not being heard, for example, and want someone to validate their feelings.

One way to help them feel heard is to acknowledge their emotions. Note, this does not mean you have to agree with them. Speaker and coach Erica Latrice previously told Fast Company, “If you are in an environment where you have to be around complainers a lot, just use the phrase, ‘If I were you, I would feel the same way.'” You can also try and reframe the situation, or ask them if they’ve thought about a potential solution to solve the problem they’re complaining about.

4. The lazy and incompetent coworker

If you’re an ambitious employee who gives 110% to their work, it can be frustrating to have to work with someone who does the total opposite. This person may do just the bare minimum when you’re working together in a project, or they’ll turn in work that you end up having to redo, because the quality is poor.

It’s tempting to want to vent to your boss and colleagues, but the emotionally intelligent response would be to understand why they’re feeling this way. As Alyse Kalish previously wrote for the Muse, it may be that their supervisor isn’t managing them according to what motivates them. Say they’re someone who values autonomy and freedom. They’re unlikely to respond enthusiastically if someone tells them to do something by a particular date. They may, however, respond well to a challenge. Something like, “It seems like most people don’t think we’ll be able to hit our targets this month. What do you think?”

5. The bullying coworker

Like gossips, bullies don’t just hang around on playgrounds. While some grow up to be decent human beings, others continue to terrorize and instill fear in people in offices and workplaces. They may thrive on humiliating others publicly or take advantage of people’s vulnerabilities. They may also abuse their position of power and treat anyone who reports to them with disrespect.

As Gwen Moran previously wrote for Fast Company, the best thing you can do if you’re on the receiving end of their treatment is not to react. This might be difficult to do, but if you react, you’ve given the bully what they want, said workplace abuse expert Patricia G. Barnes, author of Surviving Bullies, Queen Bees, and Psychopaths in the Workplace.

When they don’t get a reaction they want, they’ll be more likely to stop. And if they don’t stop, then it’s time to start documenting their actions so you have evidence to bring your case to the higher-ups. And if that doesn’t work? The most emotionally intelligent thing to do is probably to start looking for a job elsewhere.