I’ve been seeing a lot of articles lately geared toward how to deal with difficult coworkers. Considering I’ve had a few in my day, I optimistically click on it, hoping for some strategy that I hadn’t thought of. I’m always disappointed to read that it’s strategies for “working things out” and “getting over your own issues” rather than what I’m really looking for, which are ways to annoy those who make my life miserable just enough without getting fired.
What the last article I read thankfully addressed was that if you’re dealing with someone who’s got a legit personality disorder, like narcissistic personality disorder or borderline personality disorder, then the strategies they outline will probably not work. What’s never been said in any of the articles is that if you’re dealing with individuals like that, they’re probably dangerous.
However, most of us can’t just go and quit our jobs. Unfortunately, due to the way benefit structures work in this country, it’s very difficult to jump from one job to another simply because you don’t like the crazy people you work with. In all likelihood, you’re going to run into crazier people at the next job, so quitting isn’t really an option.
If you’re reading this, hoping to find some concrete advice on how to survive the workplace crazies, I don’t have anything earth-shattering to share. I’m in search of my own strategy, but really, I walk the line every day between avoidance and mild antagonism. My work relations rely on my supervisor’s own loathing of confrontation, the internal mechanisms of human resources to be all but useless, and my colleagues’ own cowardice. I know exactly how far I can push these limitations, but I don’t recommend it to anyone else.
However, what I can recommend is twofold: know the law and your company’s policies on employee conduct and to document whatever you can in terms of abuses that you receive. Be sure that if you go on the offensive, which could only mean to say no to certain things or behaviors, or so far as to set verbal or physical boundaries with the more egregious offenders, that you’re well within your rights to do so.
Keeping a journal also helps, if you’re not able to document things like email. Be sure to keep dates and times for things. When using emails, keep blind copies of sent messages and NEVER delete anything that you think you’ll need later. I’m sure if you’re reading this, though, that you’ve already thought of all these items and may already be doing it.
What I don’t recommend, however, is what all of the articles say to do, which is to get over it. The high functioning mentally ill count on short memories and use that to their advantage. Keeping a record will remind you of why certain people are not to be trusted. Chances are you’ll probably need it later.
Beyond that, keep your head down, headphones plugged in, and don’t volunteer any information about yourself, personal or otherwise, unless you absolutely have to. Don’t join them for lunch, don’t get caught up in conversations, and don’t vent your frustrations to someone else within the company. The last bit of advice is to protect you down the road, you never know how quickly information like that can travel and bite you in the end.