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Dave Conrad: How to work with people who are hard to work with

September 8, 2018 GMT

Dear Dave: I work with some people who are hard to work with. I am not going to say that I am the world’s easiest person to work with, but I certainly don’t mistreat my fellow employees, or go out of my way to make our jobs more difficult than they should be. However, a few of my co-workers play mind games and seem to enjoy seeing people trip up and make mistakes. It’s hard to act like a team when your teammates are working against you. How can I cope with this problem? — N

Dear N: My first question is: where the heck is your manager in all this? This is certainly a management problem and a good manager would “nip this one in the bud” (sorry, old saying). I do understand where you are coming from and what you are experiencing needs to stop right away, so you can get on to the business of doing your business.


I will never ever understand why some people take pleasure in making the lives of others more difficult. I am not a psychologist, but I would venture a guess that some people are so unhappy with their lives that they just cannot stand seeing other people enjoying theirs. This is truly sick and the envy some people feel toward others causes them to try and hold back the progress of hard-working people who just want to have a good day and take pride in their work.

If there are people in workplaces who try to pull others down, you can “bet your bippy” (“Laugh-In,” 1969) that these folks hang out in packs and reinforce each-others’ dirty work. Misery loves company and, often, these packs will zero-in on some people that they believe are easy targets. I cringe as I write this, because I just want to shake up these culprits and say, “What the H’s the matter with you?” I know you can’t touch your co-workers, but you get my drift.

In any case, the first thing to remember is that you should never lower yourself down to their standards. Besides, they are so good at their devious craft, you will never beat them anyway. Accordingly, carry on with your work, stay focused, don’t make yourself an easy target, and remember your purpose at work.

If your manager is oblivious to what is going on, tell him or her about this problem. But, make sure you have your ducks in a row and have facts to support what you are telling your boss. Be careful, because your boss may be friends with the dirty workers. In that case, you will need to clearly explain how productivity is lost and costs may go up, because of the lack of teamwork. Even the dumbest — yes, I said dumbest — managers don’t want to hear or see those two non-performance factors.


When you’ve had enough

Many managers like it when employees compete with one another. They believe it brings out the best in their staff and that the workers will try new, better, and different ways of getting their work done, so they can appear to be more effective than their coworkers. I am all for “restless discontent” where workers try to take the status quo and kick it up a notch by employing some acceptable, innovative practices to perform work in better ways. I am not in favor of managers creating such a fiercely competitive environment, that the concept of teamwork gets lost and no one can trust anyone else. In short, we do our best work while working with others.

If the problem lingers and even gets worse, I believe you have the permission and the responsibility to tell these caustic drones that you are largely uncomfortable with their attacks, you are not able to do your work as desired, and that a lack of performance will evolve putting everyone’s job in jeopardy. I would make it clear that you have had more than enough and you are prepared to divulge what is happening thoroughly and quickly. Do not lose control. Stay calm, but make it clear that you are sincere about what you are saying and that you are at the end of your rope.

Nothing succeeds like success. I would venture a guess that your destructive co-workers are not doing anything resembling superior work. If you want to sleep well at night and be looked upon favorably, you must do the best work that you can possibly do — let performance do the talking. There is a good chance that the den of degenerates will get tired of trying to make you trip up, and there is a chance that you just threw some measurable fear into them, and they may think twice about attacking you again.

Organize your good workmates and act as a coalition that openly and often says, “We are mad as heck, and we won’t take it anymore.” You will have moved good people from being targets to being brave and strong.