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4 types of difficult co-workers and how to deal with them without losing your mind

How to deal with difficult coworkers without losing your mind
How to deal with difficult coworkers without losing your mind

Everyone wants to work in a friendly and productive environment, but sometimes even one bad co-worker can make getting your job done seem near impossible.

Psychologist Amy Cooper Hakim, an expert on employer-employee relationships, says this is a problem many people face.

"The biggest issues stem from improper communication, poor tactics," Hakim tells CNBC. "We need to take emotion out of workplace issues."

In a revised version of the book "Working With Difficult People," which was originally written by Hakim's grandmother, Hakim details how to deal with virtually every type of exhausting co-worker, including bosses and subordinates.

Here are few types of difficult co-workers, along with some tips on how to handle them:

1. Tacklers

A "tackler" is a coworker who attacks you personally while arguing an issue, according to Hakim.

"These colleagues are so determined to score points with the boss that they block whatever you toss out for consideration and tackle you instead of the problem," she writes.

Don't stop suggesting great ideas just because you have a co-worker like this. Try to move the emphasis away from people and back to the issue or idea, the psychologist suggests. Or talk with the co-worker privately.

"Say that you'd like to have a better relationship and ask how she thinks you might be able to resolve your differences," Hakim writes.

If that tactic still doesn't work, consider your options. Hakim advises that if the tackler has many friends in high places, try to just concentrate on doing your job and make more friends, as an ongoing feud could hurt your ability to advance.

If, on the other hand, the situation is truly unbearable, get help.

"For those circumstances where you cannot handle a hostile colleague alone, quickly contact the appropriate resources to get the help that you need," she writes.

Be calm but assertive when dealing with a bad co-worker, Hakim writes.
Milton Brown Creative/Getty Images

2. Enviers

"These peers are resentful," Hakim writes. "They want what you have. More than that, they believe they should have what you have."

Even a simple "Congratulations" can feel insincere or even hostile. So what do you do? Limit your communication with that kind of co-worker and do your part to keep your talks friendly, advises the psychologist.

If the envious coworker starts to attack you personally, Hakim suggests you try to guide the conversation back to the issue at hand, taking emotion out of the conversation.

You could say something like, "C'mon, Blake, I don't want to argue about that. We can be civil to each other." If the situation doesn't change, leave.

Oftentimes, Hakim writes, these co-workers are lashing out because they're insecure about their own jobs. Encouraging co-workers to find a project or skill that excites them could be a great way to deflect any negative feelings.

If things escalate to the point where you can no longer do your job effectively, consider talking with an HR manager or your supervisor.

3. Intimidators

This is the office version of the middle-school bully. Intimidators get you to do what they want by implying they can embarrass you or hurt your career.

It's important to remember, though, that the status of the person matters: "An intimidating boss who can fire you has real power over you; an intimidating colleague has perceived power," Hakim writes.

To feel more comfortable when dealing with this type of co-worker, the psychologist suggests you rehearse responses, such as, "You're not serious, are you?" or "I don't feel totally comfortable with that."

You can stand up for yourself and be assertive without sounding angry.

Create a kind of bubble, the psychologist suggests. Imagine a barrier between you and the co-worker that protects you from his threats. Put as much actual physical space as possible between yourself and the negative person, too.

Keeping an electronic record of interactions between you and the "intimidator" could also be helpful in case you need to discuss the issue with a supervisor or HR manager.

We need to take emotion out of workplace issues.
Amy Cooper Hakim
organizational psychologist and co-author of "Working With Difficult People"

4. Imposers

You helped a co-worker get acclimated to the office or with a difficult project and she won't stop knocking on your door.

"Imposers take unfair advantage of your time, talent and good nature," Hakim writes. "Colleagues such as these are just plain self-centered and inconsiderate of others."

The simplest solution is to apologize, say that you are too backed up with your own work and then decline to help. You could suggest she reach out to another co-worker or supervisor.

You can say something like, "I'm sorry, Maya, I can see you're in a bind, but I can't help you because I'm so far behind in my own work. Maybe Sebastian isn't as busy and can help?"

A key takeaway

With any negative working situation, if you feel like you cannot handle the issue yourself or truly feel in danger, do not be afraid to ask for help. A bad co-worker doesn't mean that you should dread going to work. And more often than not, the issue can be resolved, according to Hakim.

"It's to everyone's benefit to fix these problems," the psychologist tells CNBC.

You can ask a sympathetic co-worker for his or her advice, meet with an HR manager or talk to your boss. Try to separate your emotion from how you communicate. For more detailed tips, check out Hakim's book.

If you need a little inspiration, check out a career strategist's tips for dealing with a job you hate.

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