How To Deal With Petty Coworkers

March 8, 2019  |  
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a petty person

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Everybody has some petty coworkers. They’re infuriating. They get under your skin. They operate in a way nobody else does—living by their own rules. Those rules are in the pursuit of one goal and one goal only: look better by making others look bad. Petty coworkers know, deep down, that they have no positive attributes. They know they have a limited skillset to offer. They can’t possibly make themselves look good by simply doing good, so their only other line of defense to possibly shine—in some little way—is to make others look bad. They’re mean and nasty, but they’re the worst kind of mean and nasty, because they’re never direct about it. They don’t say what they mean. They’re all about the backstabbing, the side deals, and childish workplace behavior. Look, everyone around the world has coworkers like this and those who remain sane probably do so by using these tips.

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Never engage in their gossip

Petty coworkers love to gossip. They want to pull you into conversations to talk badly about others in the office. Gossip is one of their most powerful tools for making themselves look good. They spread negative rumors about others, so the focus is on that, rather than their incompetence.

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They’ll tell everyone you did it

Do not respond when a petty worker tries to gossip to you. Change the subject. Pretend to get a phone call. Or, even say that you haven’t noticed or do not believe the thing they’re saying. They want you to participate in the gossip so they can then go tell others that you were part of starting the rumor.

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But do confront them if it’s about you

If the petty coworker is gossiping about you, confront them. And, do it publicly. Go up to them, in front of people whose respect you know they want, and say, “I heard you’ve been telling people this and that about me. You know, I’d appreciate if, as adults and professionals, you’d speak to me directly about any concerns you have about me.”

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They won’t expect that

Petty coworkers never expect anyone to confront them about their gossip. And their worst nightmare is being called out in front of others. They assume everyone will just shake in fear of the rumors they spread, rather than confront them. Confronting them sends the message that if they gossip about you more, you’ll create this embarrassing scene for them again.

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Smile and thank them for backhanded compliments

Petty coworkers love the backhanded compliment. They’ll tell you that you did a good job on such-and-such for an insert insulting descriptor here. For a newbie. For someone who didn’t get a graduate degree. Or something like that. Give them a big, toothy smile and a genuine, “Thank you!”

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So they have no power over you

If you aren’t affected by the backhanded compliment, the petty coworker has little power. Furthermore, if you give such a genuine smile and “Thank you!” to make them believe they actually made you feel good, it will drive them nuts.

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Get everything in writing

Handle everything with petty coworkers in writing. If they want to discuss how a project will be handled, who is responsible for what, who did what, who will be paid what, who will receive what credit etc…always get this over email.

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Since they’re snakes

Petty coworkers are snakes. They will manipulate the truth. They will straight up lie. But it’s hard for them to do that when you have hard evidence to the contrary.

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Pretend you didn’t see the message

If a petty coworker sends you a message that is time-sensitive—let’s say, for example, asking to be on your team for some project—don’t respond until it’s too late. Wait until you’re already well into the project. Then say, “Oops! Sorry didn’t see this until now!”

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They do it all the time

You’re essentially using their own tricks on them. You know petty coworkers often pretend not to see messages, when it’s convenient for them. They have no way of proving you saw the message in time. If they try to accuse you of doing so, they’ll look paranoid and crazy and they know it.

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Know they’ll point out your mistakes

Expect that petty coworkers are always looking for your mistakes and will find ways to bring up those mistakes in front of your peers and superiors.

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Publicly admit it and amend it

The best thing to do when a petty coworker publicly brings up one of your mistakes is to own it, apologize to the team, and announce how you plan on fixing it. The petty coworker is expecting you to pick a fight with them about bringing the mistake up. They were hoping to provoke you, to make you behave as immaturely as they do. If you respond maturely, you really just make them look silly.

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Trust they’ll get in their own way

The beauty of petty coworkers is that eventually everyone has bad run-ins with them. Everyone sees their true colors. They get in their own way. They can’t keep up with their lies. They piss off enough people.

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So you don’t have to bad talk them

So you don’t and shouldn’t bad talk the petty coworker to the people whom you respect. That only makes you look petty. You can trust that they’ll slip up, and show their true colors, all on their own.

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Hold up your own values

Continue to uphold your own values and be the type of professional you want to be. Don’t let comments or behaviors of the petty coworker affect your behavior. Strive each day to just be the type of professional you’re proud to be.

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Your reputation will protect you

Your reputation will protect you. Eventually, the petty coworker will have developed such a reputation for being a snake, and you’ll have developed such a reputation for being upstanding and honest, that nothing the coworker can say against you will hold water. People won’t believe what she says. Your reputation will protect you.

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