5 Types of Difficult Co-Workers and How to Deal with Them

Co-authored by Carly Alaimo, Content Manager at Avelist


You've worked with them all at one point or another. Here's how to handle their quirks and critiques like a boss, even if you aren't one.

1. The Nitpicker. Let's start off light. This person is usually a great employee: super meticulous, impressive work ethic, has their ducks in a row, almost always gets it right. Except for one thing: oh, how they nitpick. A perfectionist to a fault, The Nitpicker is a chronic pain as a superior or a partner. They'll keep you after hours to mull over indentions, font sizes, and color shading on a report only the two of you are going to read, and will stand over your shoulder dictating changes. The Nitpicker doesn't see an endpoint to a project, and is willing to work themselves (and you) to the bone until it's perfect, which you know, is never. The thing is, they're smart, and you respect them for their persistence and attention to detail, but yo, you gotta go home at some point, right?

How to Deal. Set boundaries. Draw cavernous lines in the sand for The Nitpicker. Make it known that you're their ally and willing to work to the best of your ability, but at 6:00 p.m., you're out.

Try this: This project is important to me, but I head out at 6:00 p.m. to take care of my home life. I'm happy to come in a little earlier tomorrow to make additional changes, review, and wrap up the project.

Whether this person is your partner or superior, there is no harm in being straightforward about your expectations. Don't feel guilty about taking care of yourself. Trust us, they'll respect you for it.

2. The Non-Responder. Yeah, you sent that email to this person ages ago and they still haven't gotten back to you. At this point, it's a routine: you send one daily follow-up email, call and leave a voicemail, call again and leave a voicemail, visit their desk (they're out to lunch so you leave a note), a day or two goes by, you call again and no answer, then they respond a week later to say the issue has been resolved--why all the fuss? Sound familiar? Most of the time, The Non-Responder actually gets the job done. They're efficient, focused, and poised; just absolute crap when it comes to communicating.

How to Deal. Confront them face-to-face. The Non-Responder clearly isn't going to get the message via email or phone, so you have to approach them in person to make a difference. Stay courteous and calm while expressing your concern:

Hey, Non-Responder (don't call them Non-Responder, are you crazy?!) thank you for resolving the issue I asked about last week. Going forward, I'd appreciate if you emailed or called me back 1-2 days after I've followed up with you. We all work differently, but having a response early on helps me stay organized and on track. I also think this would help us communicate better overall and increase efficiency.

The Non-Responder is a logical, systematic person, except when it comes to office communication. Bringing something to his or her attention in a face-to-face conversation places the issue directly in front of them, making it a problem they cannot ignore or file away and forget about. Explaining your need for acknowledgement and presenting the problem as a benefit to the company as a whole will make sense to them and hopefully, it'll click.

3. The Busy-Body. Honestly, this co-worker can be a lot of fun, until they aren't. They've got a big personality, are loud, stirring the pot, and yeah, they're in everyone's business. On occasion, it's an entertaining break to chat with the The Busy-Body. But let's be real: this person will latch onto whoever lends them an ear and can be a huge distraction in the workplace. There's also nothing stopping them from spreading rumors about you too. Associating too much with The Busy-Body reflects poorly on you--and who needs that negative energy?

How to Deal: Close the doors. If you find that you've become The Busy-Body's new favorite sounding board, it's time to shut it down. This method is similar to setting boundaries, but more aggressive. Let BB know that your desk isn't the space for gossip and negativity by simply not feeding into it. Acting cold and ignoring your co-worker won't work either, this will alarm them.

Try this instead: Let's talk about something else. I'm uncomfortable talking about people in the office.

Yep, suck the fun right out it. Bye, bye, BB.

4. The Quicksander. Okay, this person truly sucks. The Quicksander is always swamped, so busy, and bogged down with work yet...you never see them doing much of anything besides passing their workload off on others. The Quicksander spits a lot of a BS about how they like to get their hands dirty, but doesn't walk the walk. This person is a master manipulator: charming, empathetic, and sociable--just not a productive employee. People like them personally and want to please them, and that's why it's so simple for The Quicksander to recruit "helpers". In a work setting, The Quicksander makes a lot of noise, creates stress around projects and deadlines, and easily finds others into pull into their pit of unfinished business.

How to Deal: Know your role and state your priorities. Navigating boundaries with The Quicksander is tricky because they're well-liked and operate under the guise of being a hardworker. You don't want to come off as lazy or uncooperative when laying out your beef, but you do want The Quicksander to know you have your own job to do. There's a stark difference between teamwork and absorbing another person's project or task. Here's what to do:

Approach The Quicksander with confidence and be specific: I'm flattered you asked me for help and am happy to assist with *this part* of your project if you need input, but I do have my own deadlines this week. Please understand, if your work starts to take up too much of my time, I'll have to throw it back to you.

The Quicksander will get this. Again, this person is a social butterfly; they love people and are drawn to honesty. They'll appreciate your willingness to lend a hand and your commitment to your own work. This open, transparent approach might also make The Quicksander feel a little special, like a confidant, which they love.

5. The Insulter. There's always one. An intolerable cousin of The Nitpicker, this person has nothing good to say about you or to you. The Insulter is generally impatient, unfriendly, disrespectful, and hypercritical of co-workers. You dread going to work in fear of being chastised by The Insulter for a mistake you've made.

How to Deal. Set the tone and be direct. You can't escape criticism or getting feedback at work, but you can ask the person giving it to change their approach. If you're feeling disrespected by The Insulter, let them know:

I hear that you'd like me to complete my market reports faster, and I will certainly make that change, but I don't appreciate the way you're speaking to me.

Standing up for yourself in an assertive, unaggressive manner will almost always result in positive changes. If the negative behavior from The Insulter persists, you can always take it up with HR. Don't let this person get you down or make you feel worthless. You deserve respect and are allowed to ask for it.

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