A survival guide to handling difficult colleagues

Work can be an amazing empowering place, full of people who share, help and have common goals.. Well it can be, but more often than not it’s a hot bed of competitiveness, egos, and a whole lot of oh no you didn’t just throw me under the bus!

I exaggerate but I think it’s useful to know the types of colleagues you’ll come across and the best ways to deal with them. I’ve broken them down into types and rest assured some are much less difficult than others and some are quite possibly charming! When you start work, be polite and interested but don’t rush into being besties, watch, stick around, be the best Cagney or Lacey you can be (younger readers ask your mum). Suss people out carefully and the best friendships and solid working relationships will blossom naturally.

I only speak nicely to people who can further my career

They are the men/ women who can barely say two words to you. They blankly stare at an excel spreadsheet for hours on end, or spend the morning texting their partner, who’s not really their partner as they don’t want to put a label on it. They only make tea or coffee when the boss is around. They look blankly at you as you try to engage a discussion on what really happened in the lift with solange, B and Jay Z. All this changes when someone important, your boss/ bosses boss etc walks in. All of a sudden disinterested daphne becomes Doris Day and don’t really care Carl becomes Ant and Dec and Blaine from Glee rolled into one. Why this sudden transformation? Well quite simply they want to impress, they want to be noticed by the boss. So before the boss has taken their coat off they’ll mention their outfit, ask about their weekend, ask after their kids. It’s very much a training delivered in posh private schools some might say polite but being a northern comprehensive school kid it smacked of disingenuous sucking up! I couldn’t believe why the bosses couldn’t see this? Why a few flattering words meant that whatever the standard of their work it was somewhat irrelevant. However these people climb faster up the ranks than an X factor single at Christmas! Karma is a bitch though and I’ve occasionally as I’ve risen up the ranks had to hire these people and I always remember how they treated their peers and those in entry level roles. Be cautious of these people as beneath the perfect passive agressive smile, claims of friendship and being all round wholesome, they often will throw you under the bus to get ahead!

Let’s bitch about everyone

You have a meeting with someone, the meeting finishes and shake hands and say “great meeting”. You walk back to your desk and there is your colleague, arms folded, lips pursued and the first thing that they say is “you know what she did don’t you”. They thrive on gossip, love it, for them it brings them power and attention. Nothing is better for them than totally dissecting someone’s appearance and personality. Sometimes it’s subtle sometimes it’s blatant, sometimes it’s one person or a whole pack but you’ll know who they are. They can often be popular, people are drawn to people with knowledge and they love to know the ins and outs of peoples lives. They can often be seen holding court in the
pub after three bottles of Pinot Grigio bemoaning the fact that they are a victim on the one hand and on the other hand regurgitating vile opinions on a colleague or a boss. These shocking words cause shrieks of laughter from the cronies surrounding, thinking it’s cool, edgy and hilarious to be a bitch. Well it’s not it’s just nasty. You can be easily drawn to them, with gossips there is often a lot of charisma and humour but stop yourself and really think. If they are saying all this stuff about your colleagues do you not think they might be saying stuff behind your back too? It’s easy to engage particularly after your second glass of Pinot Grigio but this is a very slippery slope. Those words that made everyone laugh and you thought you were so cool will be spat out at every water cooler moment for the next week, then who’s seen as being the bitchy one. It’s difficult I know as if you are aloof you can be a target so smile, be polite but disengage as much as you can. We’re not in high school anymore there is no need to be part of the perceived cool gang!

The take credit for other peoples work

These people are often initially harder to decipher, you can even think that they are your favourite person in the office, your office chum. Well that is until after six months of working on a project they throw you under the bus in a meeting. This bus throwing can be of two types, the I did it all and take solo credit for the project or when the project is questioned or something
Is wrong then they relinquish responsibility and blame you. This credit taking can often be in big meetings in front of big bosses. This is a cowardly way to throw you under the bus as they know you have limited right of reply without looking like a sulky teenager “but i did that”. Or they can prior to that meeting not cc you in emails, downplay your role or even schedule meetings when they know that you can’t attend them. All this is served with a television staple the passive aggressive smile. The piece de resistance of “oh darling so sorry they didn’t see your work, I am a stronger communicator”. This is obviously said to you quietly when the meeting has dispersed. The initial reaction at this point is to punch them in the face. Do this metaphorically in your head not physically and say as I used to say “oh that’s the way your going to play it then”. Take control at the start of the project next time round, say to them you need to be cc’d in all emails. Email the boss yourself to update them, ask for a weekly catch up so you can update in person. When you get great feedback forward it on to your boss, not in a check me out kind of way, but in a look this project is really taking shape kind of way. At the start of the project or day to day sit down with the difficult colleague and agree who does what. If they cross that lines, say to them “we agreed I would do that ” if they do it again speak to your boss or take on some of there work see how they like it. Don’t fight fire with fire though, take the moral high ground and remember keep evidence of your work! If it’s all there then no one can dispute it.

Do no work and get away with it

These are somewhat rarer these days but they tend to be the offspring of someone important who no one wants to offend. They can be the runner that is practically surgically attached to their phone texting their mates bemoaning about how s**t work is. But because daddy is very senior in television then this behaviour is somewhat tolerated. Someone with no connections behaving the same way would be our on their ears before the end of the first day.

There are also the ones who’ve proven themselves, they won a bafta in 1998 and can pick and chose the projects they want to work on. Neglecting to mention that we paying them to do nothing but bask in their former glory. Now I’m all about respect but you need to “shape up” to reference Olivia Newton-John in Grease. By having double standards based on former glories it sends a shocking message of inconsistency down the ranks. Bad behaviour becomes tolerated and even revered all because people are seen as creative and can spot a hit. Fantastic but what are they doing day to day I ask you.

In love with everyone in the office

These people can be adorable, be great friends but it gets annoying when the daily conversation revolves around how hot the new guy is, or does he fancy me, did you see the way he looked at me. These obsessive types are continually looking for love often in all the wrong places. Now I don’t mean to sound prudish and office relationships can blossom. However it’s damn frustrating when you want someone to get something done and you are subjected to a twenty minute diatribe of how hot Jim in accounts looks in his cycling shorts (I’m sure he looks great).

This can transcend the office, the colleague that shares every aspect of their dating life, every row, every snog, mini breaks away. You nod politely, maybe even sigh and say that sounds lovely but in your head you are screaming shut up shut up! Or after listening to a fifteen minute rant about how Bob forgot to kiss her on the way out to work this morning and what does that mean..you have to fight the urge to get Bob’s number ring him and tell him to run, run like the wind!

Make sure these people ask about your life. You are not a sponge to absorb everyone’s woes and first world problems.. Remember that!


These can be wonderful, warm caring people who can be great friends. The question I ask myself is how as an unmarried childless man do I know how to plan a wedding from start to finish, all about every stage of pregnancy and the problems of breast feeding. Now to be fair some of this I’ve learnt from friends but the majority I’ve absorbed through osmosis through conversations around me amongst female colleagues. Don’t get me wrong babies and weddings are wonderful and
I hope very much in my future but be inclusive rather than exclusive. Ask people about themselves. Don’t judge those that are not in the same situation as you. I have a friend who’s virtually ignored by colleagues at her level at her company because she’s not married and doesn’t have kids. People talk about their families, weddings and kids which is nice but no one asks her about her life. It’s as if she is deemed unimportant because she’s not in that club. She knows that as soon as she gets engaged she’ll be part of it.
Please don’t get me wrong it’s important to talk about weddings and babies but talk about other stuff too, even if it’s what was on TV last night.

So there is just a whistle stop tour of some of the characters you’ll meet in pretty much any office! Be wary and don’t become them. Focus on your work, set goals, be ambitious and all will be fine.



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