Skip to main content

A field guide to co-workers

By Beth Braccio Hering,
Many companies have a self-ascribed social director. Enjoy the benefits of having this person on staff.
Many companies have a self-ascribed social director. Enjoy the benefits of having this person on staff.
  • Many offices have stereotypical employees, so learn how to navigate them
  • Thought it's difficult to ignore, do not engage a hot headed employee or a brooder
  • When dealing with a victim or soap opera star, listen and then change the subject

    ( -- Love them or hate them, you still have to work with them. Here are some common types of co-workers and suggestions on how to make the most of your time together.

    The relic

    He's been around longer than the office furniture and is a walking encyclopedia of company history. His idea of a modern convenience is an electric typewriter, so don't bother leaving messages in the voice mailbox he never activated.

    Keys to dealing with this co-worker include respect and patience.

    "Consider that your 'relic' has managed to survive layoffs and downturns and may have a leg up on the rest of us in terms of understanding life on the job," says Elizabeth Freedman, author of "Work 101: Learning the Ropes of the Workplace without Hanging Yourself" and "The MBA Student's Job-Seeking Bible."

    Also realize that behind the grumblings may be someone who just doesn't understand the latest technology. While he may be slow to accept help from a "young whippersnapper," kindly offering assistance without being condescending may do the trick. True tales from work: I fell into this career but I love it

    The soap opera star

    His car breaks down before big presentations, and he's sure his wife is having an affair. He laments about his daughter's new boyfriend, and he wants to know if you think the mole on his neck is getting bigger.

    Although this scenario might sound humorous, Kathi Elster, co-author of "Working for You Isn't Working for Me" and "Working with You Is Killing Me," notes that these co-workers can be frustrating.

    "They solicit your help, but they never take your advice because underneath it all they don't want to get better, they only want to take." She suggests sticking to facts when dealing with them and not getting caught up in the drama.

    Likewise, Freedman recommends redirecting the conversation with a diplomatic phrase such as, "Jean, I'm sure you have friends who are more qualified than me to talk about stuff like that" -- and then quickly moving on to another topic.

    The wallflower

    She eats lunch at her desk and arrives and leaves each day with barely a hello or good-bye. She diligently attends every meeting, but you can't recall her ever saying anything.

    Elster notes that wallflowers "tend to be excellent workers because they do their jobs, but they never move ahead because they do not advocate for themselves." To get along with one, be considerate and pull your weight. A sincere compliment, especially around others, may help draw the person out of her shell. Overworked or challenged at your job?

    The victim

    He complains that he always gets stuck with the difficult clients and that someone keeps stealing his stapler. Every decision, from installing a new computer system to switching coffee brands in the lounge, is a sign that management or a fellow employee is trying to make his life miserable.

    "The victim feels everyone is out to get him," says Roberta Chinsky Matuson, president of Human Resource Solutions in Northampton, Mass. To deal with one, she suggests letting him spout off to get things off his mind, "then quickly changing the subject so you can get back on track."

    The hot head and the brooder

    He's ready to "kill the messenger" when a meeting is bumped up an hour. She rolls her eyes when asked to correct a report. He'll tell anyone (usually quite loudly) exactly what is on his mind. She, on the other hand, prefers playing passive-aggressive games and could still be brooding about that time you accidentally ate her yogurt from the fridge. The bottom line for both -- you don't want to cross paths.

    "Both of these reactions prevent healthy dialogue, which cripples an organization," says Kerry Patterson, co-author of the New York Times bestseller "Crucial Conversations." "Our research shows that for every crucial conversation an employee avoids, an average of $1,500 and an eight-hour workday is wasted."

    To ease tensions, Patterson suggests trying to create a "safe" environment where the person knows your positive intentions. "When others feel respected and trust your motives, they let their guard down and begin to listen -- even if the topic is unpleasant. If you are open to hearing others' points of view, they'll be more open to yours instead of reacting with silence or violence." What happens if I embellish my salary history?

    The social director

    She organizes the annual holiday gift exchange and makes sure everybody knows the date of the company picnic. Depending on your mood, her energy and team spirit can be charming or grating.

    Enjoy the benefits of having this person on staff -- you'll never have to worry about forgetting Boss's Day. If too much hoopla is draining your time (or wallet), politely suggest ways to reign it in, such as holding a single party each month for employees celebrating birthdays instead of buying individual cakes. And for goodness sake, make sure her birthday is in your BlackBerry so you can wish her well!

    © 2011. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority.