Handling a Bad Co-Worker: Is Acting Fast the Best Response?

Bad co-workers are like bad cars. That is, you’re never really free of the problem until they’re gone.

That’s my experience, anyway. I’ve worked a number of different places, and it’s usually the bad co-workers who stick in your memory long after most of the other details of the job have long faded away.

So, I was intrigued when I saw this Wall Street Journal story about how to handle bad co-workers in my Sunday newspaper. Would this focus on some real specifics one could actually use to help themselves on the job, or would it be just another rambling discussion that tells you a lot of what you already know — that bad co-workers are a pain and generally make your life miserable?

You should read and decide. Here is the gist of it: 

Nothing can make you appreciate a good co-worker more than having to deal with a bad one. Bad attitudes and incompetence can sink department morale and damage professional reputations. That’s why experts say it is important to act fast. You want to actively deal with bad co-workers before the problem becomes entrenched. But you need to determine if you’re contributing to the problem by ignoring solvable performance issues, being confrontational or enabling the bad behavior.

“By not responding to inappropriate behavior or communication, you’re reinforcing that behavior. You’re actually telling that person that it is OK to communicate with you in that manner. You should address issues as they happen,” says Beth Sears, president of Workplace Communication, a consulting firm in Scottsville, N.Y., who recommends examining how you communicate across all channels including email, instant messages, memos and social media.”

Should you avoid taking co-worker issues to HR?

Yes, there’s some truth to that. If you don’t challenge bad behavior when it happens — and let the bad behaving co-worker know you won’t stand for their nonsense — you run the risk of letting them establishing a pattern that they’ll continue to fall into as long as you work together.

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But the interesting part of this Journal story is that it goes out of its way to focus on how you should, “weigh the political costs of dragging your boss or human-resources department into the conflict.” Yes, I know you don’t want to escalate every minor workplace issue into the job equivalent of a fourth stage nuclear alert, but there are many times when you should pull HR into conversation for the benefit of both you and your organization.

Take a read of this Wall Street Journal story and tell me what you think. Is this sound HR and people management advice? Or, is this incredibly simplistic and missing the real issues? Add a comment below and let me know.

For the rest of The Wall Street Journal story on handling a bad co-worker, click here. 

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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