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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

3 Great Lessons You Can Learn From Working With People Who Drive You Crazy


We’ve all worked with someone who’s not winning any awards for how he or she interacts with others in the office. Whether it’s the boss who plays favorites, the co-worker who has no boundaries, or the recent grad who doesn’t take work seriously; there will often be a teammate who brings you down.

Your first thought may be to seek out strategies to work with this person as little as possible. And yes, that’ll help keep you sane. But if all you focus on is cordially coping with his or her bad habits, you’re actually missing out on a major learning opportunity. That’s because, just like that incredible boss or inspiring teammate who teaches you skills you’ll never forget; working with that person who drives you crazy can also be really valuable.

1. From the Boss Who Doesn’t Pay Attention Until the End: Learn How to Be a Better Communicator

You’re really excited about having a boss who gives you free rein over your projects. Once they’re assigned, you can just run with your ideas, and turn them in when you’re done. But those positive feelings of ownership and confidence are quickly replaced by negative emotions when your boss says she hates the final product and tells you to start over.

You feel like you wasted your time and like you were hung out to dry. But above all, you feel frustrated because this chain of events is unnecessary. You want to do good work and you were putting forth your best effort. If only you and your boss had gotten on the same page sooner, you wouldn’t have lost those hours, and you wouldn’t have had to sit through negative feedback that made you question your abilities.

The big takeaway from this? Get well acquainted with the term “managing up.” In a nutshell, this concept translates to proactively communicating with your supervisor. You send calendar requests for check-ins. You share your ideas and progress. You ask for pointed feedback. You’re the driving factor. Then someday, when you’re the one in charge, remember how it felt to never know where you stood, and make it a point to give regular praise and feedback.

2. From the Colleague Who Steamrolls You: Learn How to Be More Collaborative

It’s true: You can’t be afraid of promoting your abilities (and therefore, yourself) at work. But that co-worker who is as far from humble as a person can be?

He alternates between taking credit for your ideas and ignoring them altogether. He acts like he’s the smartest person in the room, and not surprisingly, the room doesn’t have too favorable an impression of him, either.

And while steering clear of projects he’s on may boost your quality of life, you’ll probably have to work with him now and again. When you do, pay more—not less—attention to the undermining things he does. That’s because, while he’s operating on an extreme, you may recognize some habits you’re prone to as well.

Does it seem like he makes assumptions on who will (or won’t) have valuable contributions and then only listens to certain people? Does he always speak first—or longest? Does he reply to suggestions so lightening fast that it’s hard to believe he actually took the time to process them? Since you know these habits make a bad impression, pay extra attention to how you work in a group to make sure you’re not guilty of any of these faux pas.

3. From the Employee Who Makes a Big Deal About Grunt Work: Learn How to Be a Team Player

I don’t think anyone lists “paying my dues” in his or her objective statement. No one aspires to grunt work. But for the most part, people accept that pitching in is necessary, and that the most junior roles usually include a healthy dose of it.

However, some people think that as long as the work gets done, it doesn’t matter if they do low-level tasks with a smile on their face or a look that makes it clear they’d rather be somewhere else. Does it matter if they complain while they stand next to the copier for an entire afternoon? Everyone gets it—right?

Now ask yourself: Are you judging this person? Even if you’re not mentally docking points for negativity, you would notice who has grunt work and stays positive and affable. That person would impress you, and in turn, be top of mind when an exciting project did open up.

If you feel like you’ve been unfairly (overly) assigned menial tasks, that bears a conversation with your boss. However, learn from these people that copping an attitude is never going to change your workload. Instead, staying upbeat will actually add to your argument for getting different assignments down the road.

It’s totally understandable that you’d want to avoid someone who makes your job harder or your day less enjoyable. But, if you are paired with that person, take the time to build your own skills, so you’ll never be in the running for least-liked colleague.