6 Co-Workers Who Could Sabotage Your Career

The Master Delegator

The Master Delegator

This co-worker is either always asking, “Can you help me with … ?” or saying, “I need you to …” And whenever he’s in charge of a big project, he all-too-eagerly shoves a bulk of the tasks your way. Oh, and he’s also quick to say, “I’ve already got a lot on my plate.” But, as far as you can tell, his plate is no fuller than anyone else’s. In fact, with all of his delegating, it’s starting to seem like he’s not pulling his weight.

How This Co-Worker Wreaks Havoc: When he asks for help, your knee-jerk response is often yes—maybe because you’re a people-pleaser who’s afraid to say no, or you’ve already said yes so often that you feel obligated to continue to pitch in. Whatever your motivation, you now habitually land yourself in a pit of prioritizing misery as you juggle his to-dos and your own. Good luck meeting both of your deadlines on time!

What You Can Do: “It takes two to tango,” says Dr. David Ballard, Psy.D., head of the American Psychological Association’s healthy-workplace initiative. Translation: In order for the delegator to succeed, you have to first agree to help. According to Dr. Ballard, there are two ways out of this tricky situation: You can either decline his request for assistance, citing your own burgeoning workload—or ask a manager to help you prioritize your co-worker’s delegated task and your own to-dos.

 

The Control Freak

The Control Freak

You point out a new idea or an improvement—like getting more creative with the wording in a report or tweaking the steps in an old procedure—but she’s determined not to change a thing. With her, there’s little room for input or innovation. Sure, tenacity has its virtues, but her stick-to-itiveness feels more like plain ol’ stuck.

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How This Co-Worker Wreaks Havoc: You want your job to be a place where you can develop and display your talents and creativity—and nurture your passions. Bottom line: You’re happier at work when you’re making a meaningful contribution. But when you’re dealing with someone who insists on calling every shot, it reduces your sense of autonomy. “Research shows that when people don’t feel control at work,” says Dr. Ballard, “it negatively effects job satisfaction and engagement.”

What You Can Do: “Keep at it,” says Dr. Ballard. “But rather than push your own ideas on her, ask creative questions that let her arrive at a new approach one step at a time.” Dr. Ballard advises using team-oriented “we” language, such as “I know you value __ [insert something here that speaks directly to your colleague’s pet interest or personal bottom line], so it might be good if we __ [insert your idea here]. This way, she’ll feel a sense of involvement and ownership in the decision.

The Know-It-All

The Know-It-All

You may also know him as the Super Achiever or the Spotlight Hogger. He’s not always the best or the brightest (often, he’s quite average), but he certainly thinks that he’s top dog. He also expects to lead, not follow. So he’s the first person to take the floor, always piping up with a “here’s what we should do” idea in a meeting—even though he doesn’t always have the substance to back up the hype.

How This Co-Worker Wreaks Havoc: He erodes other people’s confidence with his overconfidence, and he diminishes the natural collaboration that occurs when great ideas are presented by fellow colleagues. Plus, this co-worker may be so focused on being The One that he even steals your ideas. A possible scenario: The two of you are chatting about possible solutions to a problem in the hallway … and then he brings up your casual suggestion in a meeting as if it were his own!

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What You Can Do: Acknowledge your colleague’s valued contributions while also reminding him that an office thrives when there’s a collaborative environment, suggests workplace consultant and leadership coach Sylvia Lafair. Another thing: The next time that you’re both in a meeting, don’t be afraid to rip a page from his me-me-me playbook by speaking up about your own brilliant idea before he has a chance to boast about his.

The Procrastinator

The Procrastinator

His catchphrase: “I’ll get it to you tomorrow.” His schedule is always full of hold-ups, and his emails have plenty of excuses for why something’s unfinished (and possibly not even started yet). Maybe he’s legitimately overwhelmed, maybe he’s lazy—who knows why he’s always late. But you’re not the only one who wishes that you could count on him to deliver the goods on time.

How This Co-Worker Wreaks Havoc: If you’re working on a project together, his lateness equals your lateness, which breeds anger and resentment—and increases your stress and anxiety levels.

What You Can Do: In this scenario, honesty is your best policy. He’s probably afraid of merely doing good-enough work, says Lafair, so tell him that he always turns in good-quality work, but his tardiness has a way of tarnishing it.

The Whisperer

The Whisperer

In her book, “Don’t Bring It to Work: Breaking the Family Patterns That Limit Success,” Lafair calls this person the Splitter. Why, you ask? Because this toxic co-worker is an office gossip with a mean streak and bad intentions to create riffs—or splits—in office relationships.

How This Co-Worker Wreaks Havoc: The Whisperer sidles up to you to say that she overheard Sara deriding your work—only to sidle up to Sara to tell her something entirely different. Meanwhile, you and Sara build mistrust over time, side-eyeing one another in the halls and second-guessing each other.

What You Can Do: The best way to neutralize a whisperer is to confidently yet gently expose her for what she is. When she offers one of her so-called insights about what Sara “really thinks” of you, Lafair suggests coming back with a quick, “Is that right? I’d love to talk to Sara. Why don’t you and I go over to her right now?” This way, you’re letting the whisperer know that you’re not so easily fooled by her gossip—and her nervousness will likely let you know that Sara isn’t the culprit.

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The Chit-Chatter

The Chit-Chatter

It never fails: When The Chit-Chatter stops by your desk, her “got a minute?” turns into an hourlong discussion. Sometimes you’re both eagerly talking away and lose track of time, but more often than not, you’re just nodding along politely. Either way, it’s a grade-A time suck.

How This Co-Worker Wreaks Havoc: The more chatting you’re doing with a colleague, the less actual work you’re getting done. Plus, you may start to avoid this person because her behavior becomes a threat to your time, thwarting your best intentions to stay on track at work.

What You Can Do: Don’t be afraid to say no, advises Dr. Ballard. “And that ‘no’ can be as simple as a redirecting action,” he explains. Translation: The next time that your colleague comes by asking if you’ve “got a minute,” you should say, “Sure. But I really only have about five minutes.” Then stand up before she has a chance to sit and get comfortable, sending her a clear signal that the clock is ticking.

 
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