After Hours

10 positive spins on the annoying traits of co-workers

If workplace decorum (or career survival) requires you to speak politely about an obnoxious colleague, a little careful rephrasing can come in handy.

You see them, you hear them, and worst of all, you must work with them. They are the people whose traits drive you crazy or make you despair about going to work. Yet talking frankly about their unbearable habits could get you into trouble. So here are some examples of the positive spin you can put on those negative qualities. And yes, I too have run into all of them.

1: The Cheapskate

This character never picks up the check when you go out to lunch or chips in when a co-worker does the candy sale fundraiser for a child's school or sports team. You have also heard that this person never wants to drive relatives when family gatherings occur, always preferring to walk instead.

The spin: The Cheapskate is "second to none in being able to manage money" and is "frugal." Most important, this person is "someone who cares deeply about the environment" and "demonstrates by deeds a concern over climate change."

2: The Slowpoke

This person is still composing the inquiry report into the sinking of the Titanic.

The spin: The Slowpoke "is extremely methodical in his/her work," "reflects deeply on every assignment," and "always takes extra time to make sure that things are right."

3: The Micromanager

This boss never leaves you alone but rather is always looking over your shoulder. The Micromanager gives you no autonomy over your job or the project.

The spin: This person "stays involved with things," "is detail oriented," and "likes to have hands-on involvement."

4: The Perpetually Dissatisfied Never-Pleased

This person would watch highlights of Super Bowl XLII, look at the David Tyree fourth-quarter last-second catch, and dismissively say, "What a fraud; no 'real' player uses his helmet to catch the ball."

The spin: This person "has high standards" and "always demands more out of co-workers, associates, and subordinates."

5: The Thin-Skinned Freakout

You might approach this person when you're doing fundraising so your child's band or sports team can travel to London. Unlike The Cheapskate (who avoids the matter altogether), this person freaks out, maybe even making assorted snide remarks.

The Spin: You could describe this person as "always willing to give an honest opinion." Or you could say this one "always knows where things stand."

6: The Negativist

This person sees the cloud instead of the silver lining, or the hole instead of the doughnut.

The spin: The Negativist "keeps things real," "doesn't let us have unrealistic expectations," and "always makes sure that we are realistic in what we are planning."

7: The Critic

In his hit song "The Breath You Take," George Strait sings of a young boy who looks up from second base during a ballgame and is surprised to see his father in the stands. If that father were "The Critic," he would castigate his son afterward for not hitting a home run, or even a triple, but only a double.

The spin: The Critic might be described as "open with his/her opinion," "unafraid to make views known," and "always willing to offer suggestions."

8: The Gullible One

If this person were living in Newcastle, he or she would buy coal on the advice of a vendor.

The spin: You could say that The Gullible One "believes in other people" and "is always willing to give others the benefit of the doubt."

9: The Pollyannist

This is the person who puts smiley faces on everything. The Pollyannist is great most of the time, but that perpetually sunny attitude can become really annoying.

The spin: This person "knows how to see things in a positive light" (and in fact can write about it for TechRepublic).

10: The Unbearable Boss of Your Spouse

If you attend social gatherings that involve your spouse's employer, watch out for landmines. You don't know your spouse's co-workers nearly as well as your spouse does. Be particularly careful around your spouse's Unbearable Boss.

The spin: To be on the safe side, you might say to The Unbearable Boss, "[Spouse] talks about you all the time" or "I've heard so much about you." Then change the subject quickly.

Other spins?

What annoying characters do you have to deal with at work? Have you found a positive and tactful way to describe them or do you just speak the unvarnished truth about them?

About

Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.

17 comments
plumbsue60
plumbsue60

I have dealt with a few types that are not listed. 1. The immature one. This is the person who is always whining and crying about making a mountain out of a mole hill. I dealt with him by letting him vent and get it out of his system. How could I spin it? I never consider doing that. I suppose that I could say that Sammy has a very keen eye and the memory of an elephant. 2. The liar or/the thief. This person is the type that will say or do anything to get ahead or to hurt another employee, usually out of jealousy, spite, vengeance or a combination of any of the previous. Spin. Dorothy will leave no stone unturned to make her point.

purple713
purple713

There is nothing worse than a co-worker that got "comfortable". So much that they feel the users should come to them to pick up a piece of equipment. Not to mention the personal conversations on their cell phone and land line. It's a place of business, not your home.

Dyalect
Dyalect

On your own time please. Nothing worse than whistling tunes in an corporate environment. Maybe something catchy. But just random whistling?!? You had better be nursing a baby bird back to health, if not you are just driving your co-workers nuts. Positive spin, bic pen to the ear drum, or cottonballs to the whistlers mouth!!!

Wife of George Kaplan
Wife of George Kaplan

I work with an extremely loud individual who injects him/herself into every conversation. Everything about this person is loud. This person almost always interrupts other's conversations. I'll often have someone come over to my work area and we'll be discussing work or personal matters and this person has to chime in. Literally pop up out of his/her chair and talk loud and chime in. Drives me friggin' crazy. This person is a nice person and isn't a jerk/witch, but man, I go crazy sometimes. I'll talk to the person working next to me and "bam", this person is talking too. I'll be working on something privately at my desk - even on a phone call - when this person interrupts to add something to what I'm saying. It isn't all the time and some days I can deal with it, but there are times that if I had one of those inflatable mallets or bats I'd use it on this person's head! Like others have already said, we all have our quirks and Lord knows I do things that drive others mad too. It's hard sometimes, but really, what we should be doing is talking to people and explaining how we feel (at least that's what I'm told by HR), but it's more fun to enroll people into our bantering I guess.

a.kenter
a.kenter

After having explained even the most basic of operations or actions a gazillion time, this person will still refuse to pay attention to what you intend to teach them to do on their own. They will flatly refuse to do anything that you have already done for them once before (probably effortlessly), if it requires for them to either make an effort or to switch off auto-pilot and do some actual thinking, claiming that this is why there's IT staff and it is not part of their jobs to know about this sort of thing. The positive spin: they are 'eager to obtain expert opinions', 'never too proud to doublecheck' and 'sure to enquire extensively rather than go in guns blazing'.

Susan.Nortje7
Susan.Nortje7

Although it is important to always take people's feelings into consideration, it becomes difficult when a transport manager argues that 6 tons of plastic is lighter than 6 tons of steel. The hilarity of it makes all tact fly straight out of the window and causes open ridicule.

quokka_z
quokka_z

@Dyalect And the +++ spin: They are helping you build your immune system so you don't have to suffer like them.

Dukhalion
Dukhalion

If You flatter them enough they may think that they are far too good for their current workplace and start looking for another job. Offer Yourself as a character refererence for them.

robo_dev
robo_dev

Gosh I've worked with some interesting people over the years. People who would go to sleep and/or pick their nose in director's meetings, folks who nearly started fistfights at work, make totally inappropriate comments at work. I had a cube-mate who would spray Lysol spray like a chemical defense cloud whenever somebody sneezed, a co-worker who would shoot so many rubber bands the cleaning people filed a complaint (it had damaged their vacuum cleaner), or another co-worker who would emerge with tussled hair and glassy-eyes in the afternoon afternoon after a one hour 'conference call' (wink wink) in his office.

Dyalect
Dyalect

Don't care where you work, these chaps are as annoying as you know what. Refuse a tissue, or mint, or anything to cut down the 9-5/24-7/365 days of coughing and sniffling. You know they don't do that outside of the workplace (usually quiets down by days end). Thank goodness for headphones and purell. Blow your nose and invest in some Halls candy. PLEASE!

j2will
j2will

You can also use these people as assets by capitalizing on their basic tendencies. Over my careers, I have found many of these types of people to be worthwhile assets. You could get the Cheapskate's input on what he considered extravagant and superfluous elements within the office which could help in providing some ideas on how to trim the budget. The Slowpoke could be a source for process improvements. The Micromanager would be a source for the details and could reveal some points that may not have been considered on a given project. The Perpetually Dissatisfied could be asked what they found wrong with a product or service or process. The Negativist could be used to gain "worst case" scenarios before jumping into a decision or project. The Critic could be approached for an honest opinion about some aspect of a project. The Pollyannist can take the sting out of a moral-busting event and ease a tense moment. Unfortunately, the Unbearable Boss is always best avoided during any and every event, especially social events.

mradicke
mradicke

LOL! John_LI_IT_Guy obviously knows how to keep things real!

hung1962
hung1962

First of all we do it because, as Calvin pointed out, we have to work with one another. Everyone has feelings. When feelings get hurt people naturally take it out on the one that hurt them. That usually results in distrust, revenge, less collaboration, and less productivity. Second of all, who are we to condemn others? Everyone has faults, including us. The challenge is to be big enough to look beyond the traits in others that "drive you crazy" and help bring out the traits that foster productivity, both in ourselves and in others. Faults can be addressed, but there is a time and a place for that. In order for someone to really change they have to be open to the idea. They have to be humble enough to ask themselves, "What's wrong with me?" People are seldom in that situation. So, when someone complains to them they just put up their guard. Lastly, the right person needs to address the weakness. It is certainly not an impatient coworker. It needs to be a trusted friend or loved one. However, even when a trusted friend or loved one points out a flaw they still need to be humble. Otherwise they will immediately call "foul".

John_LI_IT_Guy
John_LI_IT_Guy

There is no way to sugar coat a bad work associate. If the shoe fits call them for what they are. Why sugar coat bad social skills?

plumbsue60
plumbsue60

The only thing worse than dealing with a very lazy coworker is knowing that the boss(es) will always let her get away with it. I had one to stand right in front of the boss and tell him that she did not feel like doing her job and he let her get away with it. Yet, she and that does were always trying to put extra work onto me.

plumbsue60
plumbsue60

He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue. Proverbs 28:23

plumbsue60
plumbsue60

That is a lot easier said then done. I like the previous response, "Call it as it is". I have learned to speak up and to say no over through the years. The people that I have worried about saying no to had no problem whatsoever saying no to me. They also had no problem finding fault with me and others. Most folks can dish out criticism but cannot take it. It reminds me of Barney Fife.

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