Your biggest time sapper at work?

When I ask team members and leaders what the most time absorbing issues are I’ll guarantee that engaging with difficult colleagues is right up there…in fact someone, perhaps, pops into your mind right now?

I’m referring to the person who is perpetually negative, reactive or both. The someone who seeks to push the buttons of others….who is cranky, overly sensitive or just plain annoying.

Research suggests that the sustained bad behaviour of others has a key influence on why people leave organisations. The painful workmate costs businesses money.* Managing this situation effectively is important,therefore, not only for personal work satisfaction but also from an organisational point of view.

Dylan Minor from Kellogg refers to this type of employee as “toxic” because of the enormity of the potential damage they can do to an organisation’s culture and reputation.**

Generally, it’s not about you.

A person’s own way of seeing the world is a huge influence on their way of acting and communicating. Ongoing personal issues can affect behaviour as can other points of dissatisfaction with life away from work. Sometimes though, this person is simply not happy with the environment they work in or the people they work with.

As a starting point though, share the issue with a wise and trusted “sounding board” or two to determine if you may be inadvertently contributing to this problem. Being able to discuss the issue provides clarity and helps to formulate solutions. Avoid ruminating over what’s going on. Positive action is the key.

What else to do?

It’s pretty challenging working with someone under this circumstance – and your choice of action can be different depending on the professional relationship (eg whether you are a leader of workmate…or both). Your reaction can also differ according to whether the behaviour is directed at you or is widespread.

My overall suggestions on dealing with difficult colleagues?

  • Be courageous. Recognise that it’s never comfortable addressing this but that it is in yours and everyone else’s best interests to do so. Constructive honesty at work is really important to nurture trust and collaboration.
  • Address the issue early and gently. Perhaps a check in is a good starting point: “Is something wrong? It’s just that you don’t seem very happy because you blah blah blah…”
  • Calling out bad behaviour in this way initially is a gentle method all round to start the process of change – and may enable the person in question to look within themselves more closely. Keep your cool.
  • Importantly though, determine if there is a legitimate work related cause for the person’s behaviour. Are they the actual voice of silent others? If you are a leader of this person, seek open and honest communication in a one on one environment to gain insight into what is really going on.
  • If this person is your team mate, and behaviour extends beyond a one off “bad day”, voice your concern with a leader. If you are worried about that silly “dobber’ label, choose your words carefully when outlining the circumstance, : eg “I’m wondering if Harry is feeling a bit challenged at the moment because blah blah blah… when weblah blah blah. Do you think you could check in with him? It can be distracting for us.”

Repeated poor behaviour, despite intervention falls into a different realm of management – that of performance management.

“Constructive conflict” at work is good – not destructive and personal conflict.

We all have a responsibility to contribute to creating a positive culture – after all, work is a big component of our lives.

Lexie Wilkins, Culture and Employee-Engagement Expert and Director, Lexie Wilkins Consulting

*https://www.researchgate.net/publication/241736551_The_cost_of_bad_behavior_how_incivility_is_damaging_your_business_and_what_to_do_about_it
**https://insight.kellogg.northwestern.edu/article/hire-a-superstar-or-dump-a-toxic-worker

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