How To Deal With A Coworker With An Attitude

December 27, 2019  |  
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coworkers arguing

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In an ideal world, only individuals with some control over their emotions would be hired to any workplace where other people will be around. In an ideal world, taking some sort of emotional wellness assessment would be a part of every job application process. But, we don’t live in that world (as I imagine it would be riddled with lawsuits) so, sometimes, we have to work with individuals who, though technically qualified for the job, are absolute nightmares to spend five days a week with.


Dealing with a coworker with a bad attitude can make going to work dreadful. It adds another layer of difficulty to already difficult tasks. You really want to say to the person, “Hey, could we do without all the shade and just get our sh*t done?” But, people with bad attitudes don’t generally respond well to other bad attitudes. You could go tell on this coworker to HR but, first off, it’s rather difficult to report someone for having a bad attitude. It can be hard to put in concrete terms or even capture the evidence.


Even if you do have great evidence that this coworker is creating a difficult work environment, bringing it up won’t always mean she gets let go. It could mean that she gets a stern talking to from HR, and is let off with a warning…and then she just comes back to terrorize you for “snitching.” So handling this may be on you. And, the truth is that navigating difficult personalities is important practice. It’s kind of like dealing with workplace bullies. Should you ever want to start your own company, you’ll have to deal with vendors, clients, and employees who are less-than-pleasant. So consider this a practice run that you’re getting paid for (by your boss, that is). Here is how to handle a coworker who has a bad attitude.


Everyone gets a chance to speak

If you are working in a group, take charge of the plan and state that it’s important you go around and give everyone a chance to speak. You can agree to take turns, so everyone gets to put in their two cents. Doing this gets ahead of the negative coworker’s tendency to try to take over the conversation. Set a precedent that states the talking time will be split up evenly.


And everyone’s speaking time should be limited

State at the beginning of the meeting that everyone will have the same time to talk, and you have to keep to a tight schedule. That will force this negative coworker to ask herself how useful her pessimistic or rude comments are—since she has to use her time wisely. If she wastes too much time being negative and making useless comments, there won’t be time for her actual suggestions.


Praise those who are positive

Go out of your way to praise people who are positive, and talk about how those who have been moving up do so because they have such a great attitude and are such a pleasure to work with. Talk about this around the negative coworker, and it will bring to her attention the fact that she is certainly not like that.


Ask her to turn problems into solutions

When this coworker points out an issue in your work or anyone’s work, tell her she’s made a good point, and then ask her what she suggests you do about it. Pressure her to have a positive solution ready to go anytime she brings up a problem. She probably expects to just criticize and walk away. Show her that if she’s going to bring up a problem, she also needs to come up with a solution.


Ask she propose an alternative

If she doesn’t like one person’s suggestion, ask her what she suggests instead. If she shoots down your ideas, ask her to pitch some of her own. If she doesn’t have any, then simply say, “Unfortunately we are on a time crunch so we only have time to discuss how to move forward. Anyone who doesn’t have suggestions for how we move forward should make way for those who do have suggestions to speak.”


Ask everyone speak in plain language

This coworker may have a tendency to adorn her instructions and explanations with negative language like “stupid” or “incompetent” or “wasting everyone’s time” or “Like I said before.” Saying that time is of the essence is a good way to force a negative coworker to cut out these useless, negative statements. Tell everyone in the meeting that you’re all in a hurry and only essential information (aka not rude statements) needs to be communicated.


Ask if things are okay at home

This is a slightly manipulative tactic, but fine to use if a coworker is truly having a destructive attitude. Just pull her aside and ask if everything is okay in her personal life, as she seems quite upset. It’s a bit embarrassing for her, because you’re suggesting that she’s throwing a tantrum due to issues at home. But it also gives her a chance to vent if she needs to, so she can get back to work in a productive manner.


Mention that everyone has a personal life

If she regularly brings a bad attitude to work due to things happening in her personal life, remind her that everybody in the office has sh*t going on in their personal lives. If you have the liberty to do so, you can even share with her some of the difficult things the other coworkers are dealing with—the things she had no idea about—so she feels rather petty for throwing such a tantrum over her relatively mild issue.


Suggest reassignment

If all she brings to the table is negativity, all she mentions are problems, and all she does is complain, you can tell her that if she’d like to be reassigned to another project, since she seems to find this one unmanageable (a nice little dig suggesting her skills are lacking) she’s welcome to move to another team. That reframes the idea of her moving to another project as her failing, which she doesn’t want to do.


Get everything in writing

Ask her to put as much as possible in writing. In person, she has more liberty to throw in useless and emotional statements. There’s more room for eye rolling and swearing. But if you require her to email you whatever she wants to say, she’ll be forced to pause and realize how superfluous and aggressive her comments are.


Let her know it’s affecting you

You can tell her that her behavior is affecting your work ethic, and the work ethic of everybody in the office. The truth is that, even if she’s very negative, she probably didn’t intend to bring down the quality of work of everyone around her. She probably didn’t mean to drag everyone down so much such that one coworker had to miss her child’s ballet recital because of the delay in the office.


Limit non-professional interactions

For your own sake, limit the time you’re around this person. You may not be able to control how much time you spend around her professionally, but you can limit how much time you spend around her personally. If she finds you in the break room and tries to start talking badly to you about someone or some thing, cut her off and say, “I actually gotta run off.”


Delegate so she’s alone

If you are in charge of delegating projects, give this person an isolating task. Give her some work that will require her to mostly work alone, so that her bad attitude doesn’t affect the rest of the group. If you can, assign her tasks that require her to leave the office for a while, so everyone can enjoy a peaceful environment.


Change the subject

If she finds someone who will listen to her vent, b*tch, dwell, and go on and on about things, she’ll continuously return to that person to do so. So don’t be that person. It can feel rude to interrupt someone who won’t stop talking, but consider that it’s actually rude when someone won’t stop talking. So just cut her off and change the subject when she’s being negative.


Repeat her words back to her

When she says something that is clearly unnecessarily cruel, repeat her words back to her. If she, for example, says, “Is everyone in this office an idiot or why is this taking so long?” Repeat back, “No, everyone is not an idiot—as you just put it—but actually they’re just doing their due diligence.” Make her hear her words said back to her, and it will be a bit embarrassing for her.

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