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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

How to Deal With an Arrogant Co-worker Who Drives You Up the Wall

There you are, working your heart out at the office, humbly doing amazing things to further your department and company goals, when along comes Smarty McBrags-a-Lot, touting her latest accomplishment and basking in her arrogant glory. Maybe she even brushes past you without deigning to acknowledge your presence. Rude!

You feel your ire begin to rise, and along with it, your blood pressure. It eats at you, this uncalled for behavior. What do you do? How do you handle that arrogant colleague who constantly gets under your skin?

Look Within Yourself

First, let’s talk about you. It’s one thing to be occasionally annoyed or aggravated by an arrogant co-worker. As long as it’s not frequent and isn’t disrupting your life, you don’t need to be too concerned.

It’s another thing, though, to become increasingly agitated or absolutely consumed with frustration and anger. If you have trouble concentrating, lose sleep, or find yourself complaining frequently and vehemently about the offending co-worker, you have to figure out how to overcome your feelings before they wreck your career.

So here’s a hard truth: When someone really gets under your skin, it’s not usually the person who’s the problem. Most likely, those feelings are a reflection of something about you. Maybe you’re actually a bit jealous of something your colleague has accomplished, or you feel insecure about your productivity compared to your colleague (more on that later).

If you feel completely at peace with who you are, then another person’s quirks should simply be amusing or, at worst, a bit aggravating—not maddening, and certainly not consuming. So be honest with yourself about why Braggy Obnoxious bothers you. You don’t have to tell anyone else about it, but you need to understand it. Your awareness is your secret weapon, which leads to my next recommendation.

Don’t Hand Over Your Power

Reacting poorly to a person’s arrogance won’t change anything about it. In fact, if your arrogant colleague—or any problematic colleague, for that matter—figures out how to push your buttons, you’ve handed over some of your power. If that person is both arrogant and evil, he just might use that knowledge to antagonize you and then sit back and watch you combust. Then you end up looking like the jerk, while your colleague continues being as arrogant as ever.

Instead of reacting, strive to understand why a person gets to you so much, which can help you regain control and refocus your energy.

Are you jealous that he’s getting recognition for something he did really well? Then it’s time to focus on all the things you are doing well and learn how to promote those things, so that you, too, get noticed for your amazing work. Did she network like a rock star at a recent office party, while you communed with the wallpaper? Well, then it’s time to figure out how to build your network in a way that fits your personality.

Once you figure out what you need to focus on, you’ll no longer have a reason to give so much energy to Braggy McBraggerton—because you’ll be busy building your personal brand.

Minimize Your Time Together and Keep Things Focused

Even when you have the inner peace of Po the Kung-fu Panda, you’ll probably still feel some annoyance with certain personality types. You are human, after all, and you aren’t likely to click with everyone.

So, if you have to work with Smug Magoo, do your best to keep it brief. Just because you have to work together doesn’t mean you have to push your desks together all Starsky-and-Hutch style (unless you’re actually both police officers in a precinct that does that, in which case—good luck!).

Working on a project with that person? Set meetings with strict start and end times. Do your best to butt those meetings up against other meetings so you must leave at the pre-determined end time. Don’t have another meeting on your calendar? Figure out something to work on, and put it on your calendar so you aren’t fumbling for an explanation for why you can’t extend the meeting.

Then, think ahead about what needs to be accomplished when you meet, and set an agenda so there is less chance of wandering off topic and over time. If your colleague does get off topic, rein him or her back in: “Wow, that’s interesting! Hey, I’ve got another meeting in 15 minutes, so let’s make the final decision about the dates we’re going to host those focus groups.” Need help being assertive? Here are a few resources.

If said colleague has a tendency to just show up at your desk, close your door. If your co-worker persists, you may need to be more direct and set clearer boundaries. Just keep it simple and straightforward: “Scott, I know I always seem flustered when you pop in. Unfortunately, I just don't have a lot of free time to chat right now because I am up against a tough deadline. See you at our meeting tomorrow?”

Remember, you can only control yourself. You cannot control other people—no matter how much you may want to—but you can allow them to control you if you hand your energy and attention over to them. Focus on yourself, and minimize your time with problematic colleagues. You will be calmer, and it will show in the quality of your work.

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