Here's how to stay sane in the office.
If you ever want to conduct a study on human nature, your office is perhaps the best place to start. Look around—Catwoman's spiel about her feline friends is endless, Jai Sixpack can't stop flexing his muscles (even at work) and Giggles is forever cracking up (no matter how serious the job at hand). But these are the more harmless creatures. It's the more complex characters—the aggro girls, the whiners, the schemers and yes, the stinkers—who can make your 9-to-5 life miserable. Sure, they may not directly affect your deadline, but when these personalities find a footing in your office, they not only lower productivity, but your spirits as well.
"Toxic co-workers infect others through mouth-to-ear transmission and can cause symptoms ranging from mild irritation to critically low levels of morale. At their most dangerous, they result in a workplace teeming with virulent strains of hissing and grumbling employees," says Sharron Kahn Luttrell in www.bostonworks.com. Sadly, every workplace has at least one noxious person. What's more, employees are more stressed by pesky colleagues than they are by a heavy workload or salary concerns; say Neil J. Lavender and Alan A. Cavaiola in Toxic Co-Workers: How To Deal With Dysfunctional People On The Job. Stop letting your irksome officemates cause any more damage. We ID a few and give you a blueprint on how best to tackle them.
The constant complainer
If there's anyone who bogs you down with her attitude, it's the whiner. She's always cribbing about everything—her in-laws who are too demanding, or the office peon who never seems to make her morning cuppa right. Basically, she can make your spirits hit rock bottom with her negativity.
Pro pointer: It's easy to fall into the trap of agreeing with the grouch and join in with some complaining of your own, but don't. "Toxic people like the complainer infect others with their griping and turn a relatively benign office into a seething pot of controversy," says www.beachpsych.com. If you don't have a choice but to listen, do it for five minutes, then tell her that you have to make an important call ASAP. Better still, get headphones and turn on the music each time she's headed your way.
The ditzy doll
Ask the lost cow a question and her fave answer is: 'I'm not sure' or 'I don't know'. That's right, she's totally clueless and needs to be spoonfed 24-7. "My boss made me work with this absent-minded colleague on a presentation. It was so frustrating because she had to be told what to do at every step of the way, and it was extra work for me," says Neha, 25, junior executive.
Pro pointer: You're definitely in for a real challenge when dealing with Ms Clueless. "The 'helpless miss' persona is undoubtedly the most difficult to deal with," says Kanika Marwaha, career counsellor and India representative, University of Warwick, UK. "The easiest would be to ignore her, but then communication is the keystone of all work skills, so start by asking her astute questions relating to the issue at hand, or simply about her personal life. Be open-minded and supportive, and give suggestions. After you've tried your best, leave her to work things through," she adds.
The Backstabbing Schemer
You definitely need to watch your back when dealing with this two-faced monster who appears friendly on the surface, but is waiting for a chance to malign you underneath. "I should have known better than to trust my sweet-talking mate. I assumed that she was a friend, but was shocked when I later learnt that she'd being complaining to the boss about how irresponsible I was. Luckily, my boss knows me well, and only reprimanded me for being so naïve," says Sarah, 30, secretary.
Pro pointer: There's no knowing when the backstabber will strike, so always be alert. Practise being diplomatic and don't bite the bait every time she gets sugary-sweet. "The rule of thumb: keep your comments or problems to yourself. If you're having difficulties with your boss or co-worker, speak to them privately, and work out your differences," says www.beachpsych.com. But never go around telling everyone—especially not the schemer—how you hate your control freak chief.
The Panic Princess
Forget today's deadline, this hyper-active babe is already stressing about Project 2010. She's always in panic mode and nothing seems to slow her down. "I had a boss who was stressed all the time. She was constantly on my case and I'd get so very nervous. Finally, I couldn't take the pressure any more, and had to quit," says Kanika, 28, production assistant.
Pro pointer: "The challenge with such peers is to stay cool. Calmness and patience are the key words in dealing with these individuals, so as to establish a neutral mood in the work environment. This neutrality leaves you emotionally removed, but competent enough to deal with a difficult (read anxious) colleague," says Marwaha. Note that Ms Panicky is also a control freak. "They are workaholics and are always correcting little, niggling things," says Lavender. The high-strung girl will always be anxious, so help her relax with a stress ball, or simply teach her a few breathing techniques to soothe her nerves.
Ms High & Mighty
She's the office snob who thinks that it's below her dignity to mix with commoners. Not to sound like a sourpuss, but Ms Hoity Toity feels that she's one of a kind. She flaunts the latest cellphone, wears only designer brands (even if the styles are last season's) and her favourite pastime is dropping names and talking about all the P3 people that she partied with last night.
Pro pointer: People with superior attitudes can't relate to others and don't understand social situations. "They think of people as office furniture," says Cavaiola. Moreover, you just can't change someone, especially not the narcissistic personality. They see themselves as special, so the best you can do is praise or compliment them. "It almost seems a bit like brown-nosing, but it can actually work," says Cavaiola. The more you stroke her ego, the happier she'll be. Moreover, think of this as a chance to network and meet other people through her. But if she remains snobbish in spite of your attempts, simply ignore her.
The Gossip Queen
She's the bitchy babe who's always talking about someone or something—the topics could range from Shahrukh Khan's latest faux pas to the boss' new driver. "She just can't help herself. Any info she gets, about anything, will end up as the hot topic of conversation," says www.beachpsych.com. She also loves passing random snide comments even when it's none of her business. Well, that's the problem with her—she just can't mind her own affairs.
Pro pointer: In order to keep yourself safe from the scandal queen, remember not to share things that are important or personal. At least, not the stuff that you want to keep private. For, before you know it, your tryst with Mr Suave from HR could become the topic du jour at the lunch table. "These people can appear very normal on the surface, but when it comes to interpersonal relationships, they can be incredibly destructive," says Lavender.
The Space Invader
"These are the colleagues who trespass on your space. They don't seem to notice implicit social boundaries, and assume you want their (unsolicited) advice, or they try to 'fix' you without checking to see if you think you're in need of repair," says Daniel Robin in www.abetterworkplace.com. Yes, we're referring to that workmate who loves to plonk herself on your desk, and won't leave till she's given you the whole lecture. "There's this mother-hen character in my office who's forever advising and correcting you even when it's not required, and it can get quite bugging, especially when you've got work to do," says Rishika, 27, copywriter.
Pro pointer: If it's good advice, hear her out; but if it's some inane topic, apply the same tactic as you would for the whiner. Or, you could plan an emergency exit when you see her approaching. "Should the toxic colleague enter your work area, simply get up and walk calmly to an emergency shelter," says Luttrell, "and these may include, but are not limited to: the restroom, the pantry, the terrace, etc."
The Sleazy Slacker
The office is just another place to lounge around in for this slothful sister. "Work is a very low priority for her. Her focus at work is trying to do as little as possible, so as to find time to take care of personal matters or other interests. They sense no urgency in getting the work done, and their favourite saying is 'It can wait'," says Gary S. Topchik, author of Managing Negativity In The Workplace. But she's also one smart chica and knows how to please the boss, but at your expense. She'll often resort to credit-stealing—you could do all the work but she will get all the kudos.
Pro pointer: You have little option but to confront the credit-grubber. If things still don't improve, talk to your chief directly, as Ayesha, a 23-year-old trainee did. "We had to create a database of home decor stores, so I was running around getting numbers non-stop. When I finished, she had the guts to take a print from my computer and go to the chief before I could. Since a few of my colleagues knew exactly what was going on, they readily vouched for me when I finally complained to the boss," she says.