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Waaaah! How to deal with childish behavior at work

Have you ever had a boss who liked to yell? Or an employee who complained constantly? Perhaps you've worked with someone whose over-the-top reactions seemed designed to attract attention.

In an ideal world, everyone would behave calmly and rationally at work, but the sad reality is that some people just never seem to grow up. So if you're forced to work with any of the juvenile types described below, here are a few tips for keeping your sanity . . .



Dimitri Otis | Stone | Getty Images

Tantrum Throwers. Like angry two-year-olds, people who throw temper tantrums feel entitled to get their way. When they're thwarted, they will freely abuse anyone who displeases them. All too often, this group includes immature executives who believe that having power frees them from the need to exhibit self-control.

How to respond: When someone throws a tantrum, the best response is no response. Showing fear, anger, or any other emotion will only make things worse. Just listen quietly until the person settles down, then try to have a civilized conversation. It's impossible to reason with an angry person.

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Tattlers. Telling tales makes insecure people feel important. Sometimes this is blatantly childlike: "Mary came back late from lunch two times last week." But tattling may also be disguised with professional language: "Although Bob's group made a good effort, we were never able to get their documents on schedule, so the whole project was delayed."

How to respond: Tattling should be confronted quickly and directly. If the information is wrong or misleading, ask the tattler to make a public correction. If it's accurate but detrimental, request that future concerns be brought to you before they are shared with others. And if one member of a team habitually tattles on everyone else, then a group intervention is called for.

Attention Seekers. Attention seekers are drama junkies who crave the spotlight. Their highly emotional communication style is designed to get all eyes focused on them. Because such behavior usually reflects a deep-seated lack of self-worth, these people are really rather pathetic. Nevertheless, their outbursts are still annoying.

How to respond: The best way to combat attention-seeking is to withhold your attention. Listening or responding will only reinforce this behavior, so when your coworker begins a dramatic monologue, politely excuse yourself by saying that you must get back to work. Eventually, the attention seeker will find a more receptive audience.

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Crybabies. Crybaby colleagues may not actually cry, but they constantly whine and complain. Nothing is ever quite right, and they are never completely happy. If you ask about their vacation, they grumble about the crowded flight. If you seem excited about a new project, they point out potential pitfalls. Crybabies invented the half-empty glass.

How to respond: If you join in the griping, you will soon become the crybaby's complaint buddy. To avoid that fate, you must consistently change the subject as soon as the whining starts. But if the complaining never ends, minimize contact with the whiner and look for more cheerful companions.

Sibling Rivalries. Some people seem driven to prove they are better, smarter, or more successful than everyone else. Of course, the psychological reality is that these braggarts actually feel very inadequate. But regardless of the cause, their constant boasting can be extremely irritating.

How to respond: Never get trapped in a competitive "my dog is bigger than your dog" conversation with a braggart. They will always find a way to top your best story, even if they have to make something up. To end these verbal contests, simply say "that's great" and shift to a different topic. If you find this hard to do, then your own ego is getting in the way.

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All childish colleagues play juvenile games which are driven by their own psychological needs. So the bottom line is: When dealing with an immature boss, employee, or coworker, you have to be the adult.

— By Marie McIntyre

Marie McIntyre is a career coach (www.yourofficecoach.com) and the author of "Secrets to Winning at Office Politics." Follow her on Twitter @officecoach.

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