Horrible Co-Worker

5 Strategies To Deal With A Horrible Co-Worker


Warning! horrible co-worker ahead! Every work place has one. That absolutely impossible, difficult, nasty, backbiting individual who makes it his/her personal mission in life to belittle everyone else and make their life a living hell.

Related: 4 Tips For Becoming The Co-Worker Everyone Loves

Usually, people like this are also extremely manipulative and good at managing both HR and their own boss. When you’re forced to work with or for one of these human porcupines, here are some strategies that will help you escape the worst of the pokes.

Understanding The Nature Of Work Bullies

To begin, you need to understand how this person got to this place in the first place. It’s a little bit nature and a little bit nurture. Every once in awhile this personality type is just plain mean through and through. However, usually nasty behavior stems from a deep personal insecurity about themselves or their ability to perform their job.

Maybe they feel they aren’t good enough; maybe they never got an “A” in school; maybe their mom beat them as a child (seriously). For whatever reason, they feel inferior and by making you miserable they are bringing you down, too. They get perverse satisfaction by doing this. It’s a vandal’s mentality. Smashing nice things that belong to others is fun.

How To Deal With A Horrible Co-Worker

If they are truly horrible they also chase much of the competition for their job and vertical promotions away. This only makes them even more horrible because they now see concrete rewards for their bad behavior. Before you know it, all office etiquette is thrown out the window and there is an office monster on the loose.

1. Killing Porcupines With Kindness

The number one best strategy for dealing with a horrible co-worker is to kill them with kindness. For every exasperated sigh, provide a smile. For every accusatory rant and rave, provide a calm understanding response. Always stand your ground but don’t react to their nastiness. After the first or second time you throw kindness in their face, the bad behavior should stop.

Best of all, you will get a euphoric feeling inside, “AHA, I’ve controlled the beast.” This will make it easier and easier to keep your calm when confronted with accusations, back stabbing campaigns and ghastly behavior. Best yet, if they keep it up you will make them look like an utter fool.

2. Physically Remove Yourself Whenever Possible

This doesn’t mean transfer departments, it means being aware of a negative environment and removing yourself from it. You wouldn’t work outside in a snowstorm unless you had to. Why work next to a human tornado? If you have a flexible working environment, it will be easier for you to focus on your job if you aren’t constantly upset and trying to manage the work bully.

There is a lot to say for out of sight, out of mind. Even noise reduction headphones (turned on or off) can do wonders. Make it clear to your boss that you can be found at all times in your new alternate location. Don’t ever give up your territory – just be somewhere else a lot of the time.

3. Don’t Get Mad, Get Even

Whenever emotions take over the brain it is almost impossible to think logically and make good decisions. Realize you need to manage your own responses as much as managing the work bully. An easy way to do this is to lay future fantasy plans about ways to get even with the work bully. With every snide remark you can add another imagined revenge.

In all likelihood, you will never actually follow through on any of your plans, but if you bide your time there may come a point when you can inflict massive and substantial damage to the work bully and seriously undermine their career. Revenge like this is unbelievably sweet. This sounds evil, but think of all the poor future souls you will be protecting.

4. Manage The Tiger, But Never Trust Him/Her

Often the work bully will respond favorably to your kindness and afterwards try to befriend you. No matter how tempting this is (you might actually really come to like them), never trust the Tiger. This is a professional relationship, let it become more and don’t be surprised if you get bitten.

5. Avoid Engaging In Teams Of People Against The Bully

The camaraderie may be nice and the nasty battle-ax deserves it, but this type of behavior is unprofessional and against all normal office etiquette. In addition, bullies are uncommonly good at staving off attacks. Fighting is what they do best. Don’t assume you and your comrades will end up winning the war.

Don’t let a nasty co-worker bring you down. Follow these tips and be the better office mate!

Related Posts

5 Tips For Dealing With Difficult Coworkers
5 Tips For Dealing With An Annoying Co-Worker
Should I Complain About A Lazy Co-Worker?


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  1. I work for a company that plays favorites all the time. Total office politics. I just keep reminding myself that I don’t HAVE to feel like I should try to be friends with these people. The nasty ones have NOTHING in common with me anyways. I get along well with a few supervisors but I still won’t ever trust my head boss. People make you feel like you’re too stupid to understand what they’re explaining, or act like you’re inconveniencing them by asking a question because it makes them feel better about themselves if they make you feel like trash! I learned to keep to myself and only ask questions if I really HAVE to. I also try to ask alternate people whenever possible. It’s made it easier. Another thing that made it easier is to dispel the notion that I’m their slave and at their beck and call every minute just merely because I’m single, therefore I should have nothing else going on in my life other than working for them. I think I spent the entire holiday season last year only working 5 hrs a week overtime after they kept treating me nasty. Needless to say things have improved a lot!

  2. I work for a municipality in a small group of eleven people. Bullying has been occurring for some time. I have witnessed one victim after another come and go. I have attempted defending these victims and am now a victim myself. Many in the group are friends and have previous work history. Some are even childhood friends and have sought out this work location because of it. It’s a popularity contest where right and wrong don’t matter and neither does the truth or reality. A couple of years ago, management and HR got involved. Interviews took place, but management has indirect involvement with our group and most of what they know is what people in the group tell them, which is seldom accurate. A contracted counselor was hired to investigate our group issues. He interviewed us individually and later in a group setting. A code of conduct was developed by our group through his process which we are all to agree adhering to, or consequences could ensue. Many are not adhering to it, but managements knowledge of this depends on what the majority of the group indicates to them. Nothing management, HR, or this counselor has done has helped the situation. I believe this counselor was contracted more for protecting the employer should someone go “postal” than for actually helping the situation. Many strategies listed by people for work place conflicts would help in most normal situations, but my situation is not normal. Taking the higher ground does not work and neither do other positive approaches. I am reminded of the Salem witch trials of the late sixteen hundreds. A couple of “friends” in the group do nothing to help, either out of fear or attempting to get along with the bullies. I have 18 years with this job and am vested in a retirement system too important to leave behind. Other work locations occasionally become available, but they are loaded with friends of these same people. I have seen and heard enough to be uncomfortable in the other job locations because my character and reputation have been attacked there too. The union has done nothing to help and doesn’t want involved. I have even consulted an attorney, but it is iffy whether an adequate defense could be made against the employer not upholding their own policies. Our work policies claim not to tolerate bullying and mobbing, but the employer and contracted counselor do not claim or identify bullying and mobbing in this case. An employer does not have to uphold it’s own policy if it simply refuses to acknowledge that it is being violated, even though there is proof to substantiate some of it. Any knowledge or advice about situations like mine would be appreciated. Maybe someone else experiencing similar circumstances happens to read this.

  3. Hi, I am currently undergoing work place issues. I was employed to head an office. Until my presence, the role was played out by an admin staff and my boss. Conscious that I needed to play it well, I decided to carry out my role professionally. I actually turned aroudn the business (which was making severe losses). However, the particualr admin staff wasnt happy. She made it impossible for me to carry out my work. She payed the politics by influencing the rest in the team and my own boss against me. Without going into details, her modus operandi was to churn in lies. As she has been with the company over decades she had the upper hand. I have now learnt that she was the reason other office heads left. She is not qualifies and competent to undertake the role.
    I had the support of my boss’s boss. However, due to politics up in the chain, he too turned against me as his job was on the line. And so to support my boss, I was made the scape goat. My boss and th admin staff requested that I be reliquished of my role. As I chose to support the worn person in the company, I am now effectively been demoted (although they call it promotion with more money new title). i now have to report to my previous deputy, who himself is the biggest spinner of all. He came into the business some 5 months back and has made it clear he was eyeing my position all this while. I feel upset as he undermined me and slurred racist comments (I am enthic minority) and HR or senior management did nothing about it although I raised it with them.

    As the turn of events (me being stripped off my position) came quickly I have not had the opportunity to look for another job. The sad part is I still thinkI have lot to contribute to the business. I am well liked by clients, am a proven work winner, technically competent, and a caring boss, although I do play it by the books for not wanting to discriminate. For that I got a lot of slack. I am currently without an officel contract on my new role and fear that the company is using me as I earn fees for them and will terminate me at an opportune time. I have had no peace of mind since I took this job. I have had no recognition whatsoever.

    I am feeling slightly the fool as depsite 20 years of work expereince, I was naive on workplace politics. I always thought hard work and results gets you somethere. I guess not! I do not want to change and become a player or is that the only way to survive? Do I stick it out at my present company although I no longer feel like I belong (and the fact that I have had no revised contract to support my new role although announcements have been published to the company worldwide and clients). I fear leaving will make me feel like i was a failure. I also fear that staying will emotionally and mentally damage me that I will never get my self confidence bak again. Appreciate thoughts and comments please.

    • Surina,

      Thanks for sharing your situation with us. There are a few different ways our career experts can lend you a hand.

      1.) You could ask your question in our new CAREEREALISM Advice Forum, where we have 9 experts (including J.T.) doling out advice for anyone seeking it.

      2.) Our FREE live Q&A web show on Tuesdays at 1PM Eastern Standard Time would be a great place to get your question answered. The show will be held on the CAREEREALISM homepage. You will be able to post your questions in the chat section for a chance to get them answered live by J.T.

      You can submit your questions early here.

      3.) For career assistance, please check out our sister site, CareerHMO, and learn more about our Job Search Accelerator Program (JSAP). You have the chance to get one-on-one coaching, group career coaching, and access to hundreds of hours of video and articles aimed at getting you the job you deserve.

      If you have any other questions, please feel free to let me know. I am here to help!

  4. I will never understand why owners of companies do not understand how these behaviors are just so damaging to the reputation of their company and eventually their bottomline. They may think its petty, but, like a fungus, it grows and causes serious damage.

    • I am sorry to hear this. This is highly unacceptable and they bring back horrible karma for themselves ahead. Isn’t it powerful how once the flaws and worst, unacceptable behavior of such once it gets spread can have them exposed and put force to act better?

      Wondering if in the future if the FBI or Law Enforcement would be able to intervene against two unacceptable bullies who are owners at the worst.

  5. I started at a new company 6 months ago. The bully of my floor sits next to me and also has “protection” from the owner of the company. This has allowed the bully to feel confident in bullying other managers, not just co-workers. Some of those people have already left the company. I listened to everything the bully said. I acted like the bully always knew better than me. I gained the bully’s trust. I made sure I did not talk or gossip with anyone in the company. I stayed at my desk. I only talked to people about work but I “learned” about the company politics from the bully. Then when the bully turned on me I repeated all of the confidential information the bully told me to our boss and asked for my seat to be moved. It’s a game and the bully was mismanaged because of the relationship with the owner. Thank goodness my boss listened to me and now my seat is being moved. I have cast doubt on the trustworthiness of the bully and now I can go on with my day. I also wear headphones all day. I could find another job but everywhere you go there is a bully with some kind of perceived power behind them. I used to get upset and think that’s not fair when I encountered a bully but this time I looked for the bully right when I walked in the door. Life is not fair. Stop, look, and listen. You will find a way around the bully and if you can’t then it’s time to move on to another company.

  6. Hi there it’s good to hear others talk and know I’m not alone. In 25 years working in the same firm i always get singled out and bullied as I’m quite and introverted. I recently got approved to work a 3 day week and didn’t expect the backlash from manager and my junior co worker . I don’t know what their issue is. While on holidays my office was stripped without discussion and i was given a typed note re the junior staff member moving the same week i reduce hours and on discussion with my manager i was to take on her role which I won’t. I refused why should i. I’m 25 years in the company about 10 more then both of them. I see people treating me differently avoiding me so I’m obviously being read. It’s very upsetting and very bitchy but I’m alone and they all get on well as a group as i only worked there since march although im in the firm 25 years. I feel excommunicated for getting reduced hours its ridiculous because of jealously but I lose the pay and holiday leave so whats their problem. They know they are causing me upset as well its so deliberate. They know i was bullied before I’m afraid what people will think of me. Why do women get jealous of something when they could request it if they want it. Loads of other mistakes and extra work is now being piled on me as i reduce hours. It’s just mean and nasty. I find it hard to smile and cope through it all.

  7. I am so glad I came across this article and all of the comments……….it has really helped me because I just got a new job, I was one of 5 people hired for this company at the same time. And one coworker in particular is extremely insecure, insensitive, and full of very nasty comments. When I first started……things were fine between us, but then the trainer asked us to use constructive criticism to talk about each of our performance on an activity………When I said something about her performance that she didn’t like, she became extremely vengeful, asking the other 3 workers out to eat without inviting me, making unnecessarily cruel comments when I participate in activities in front of the group, making statements such as I should have stayed at home and not come to work…………..its unbelievable…….Im not sure that I should tell someone in administration about this because I was just hired and don’t want to be viewed as a whiner……….but I am basically trusting God and having faith that He will handle this issue.

  8. I am actually so glad I came across this article….I just got hired with a very stable company, and lo and behold, I am dealing with a very insecure bully who was also hired at the same time I was. She is extremely manipulative, and we didn’t have a problem with each other until we were asked to do an activity that required criticism. I made a comment for constructive criticism about her performance, because this is what the trainer asked us to do. Oh my goodness–after that, she absolutely went crazy. Each time I participate in front of the group, she makes the nastiest comments possible, and ultimately tries her best to humiliate and embarrass me in front of every one. In addition she makes personal comments such as stating that I should have stayed home and not come to work. What’s more, she will get everyone else on the team to go to lunch or dinner with her, and not invite me to try to embarrass me. Its absolutely unbelievable. The other 3 co workers that were hired with us always side with her because they don’t realize that she isn’t trying to provide constructive criticism, she is trying to embarrass me to the best of her ability. I am stuck within a rock and a hard place because if I continue to ignore her, it may not work too well, but if I talk to someone in administration about it, it may seem like I am the problem and not her. So its a challenge……………I have already spoken with our trainer about it………The only way I am getting though this is trusting in God, but she is a seriously insecure, psychotic, immature, mentally challenged individual…………..

    • Hi there

      I hear your pain, as I work with a real nasty coworker. I have developed social skills in order to be a better and more real friend with people in the company. This works quite well as a defense to have more people sided with you. It’s super easy to make friends and be a good friend. Maybe you are passing small critisisms or not showing interest in what other people care about. Try reading a book called “How to win friends and influence people” by dale carnegie. That book is the golden rule of being a great quality friend and that behaviour attracts friends like crazy.

      This crazy coworker of yours is a total loser with no true friends. They are acting this way as they are mimicing behaviour that they precieved from others cutting them down. This time they want to be the cool one, the one better than the others. The more force they inflict on others the cooler and better they are and get a sense of self gratification.

      Practice the book I told you about until you are far past master, and read it again periodically, it works, I live by it. The choice to have a friend to hang out with and support is no longer a performance, but a thing to pick and choose from.

      Live positive, be beautiful and kind, Be strong and beautiful from the inside out like a very bright light :)

      Also, quit your job if it’s really that bad! Just find another one !! =/\ ___ /\= !!

  9. Those techniques won’t work in a small company with say two managers and both are big bullies. Worse is the bully is sleeping with the boss who will back the bully up unconditionally. Worst is the boss the bully is sleeping with slept her way up for her entire career.

    It is very unfortunate we came across these people. I’ve experienced it once and I quit the job. (They have been bad mouthing me since but I just keep trying and working hard.) Couldn’t think of any useful techniques for that toxic situation. IT IS NOT WORTH IT.

    I do believe Karma, what goes around comes around. They will fall miserably one day, big time. In the meantime, we just focus on moving forward in our own lives.

  10. My bullie was my boss. After a write-up a year ago, and no follow up on her part, she managed to get me fired. After 10 years with this company I am out of work at age 63. Their was no fighting this bullie.
    So can I sue ?

  11. Good read. It pays to keep in mind that these type of people often behave this way because they can’t get any Significance anywhere else in their life, so they try and get it at work where they can rule others and tear them down. Once you see this, you’ll pity them.. And you’ll never react.

  12. Keep the focus on doing the job. Be a professional. Be Iron Man. Keep your focus(politely) on doing what needs done. Leave zero room on your ‘to do’ board for jobsite politics. If you’re always busy, always doing what you’re supposed to be doing, what you know needs to be done, people like that are going to recognize that you’re not playing their game, that you’re not part of their circle. Depending on the circumstance, you might find yourself subsequently excluded, and looking for a new job, but if you’re doing the job, and they’re not doing the job, and that gets you fired, or you’re not a ‘good fit’ with the company, then the issue isn’t with you, it’s with the company.

    Cliques can form, groups, friendships, and so forth. And, at every company, there’s going to be SOME ‘stuff’. But, good managers, good executives know what to look for, and if they’re on their game, this kind of stuff will be kept largely in check. If it isn’t, you’re doing yourself a Big Favor by seeking employment elsewhere.

    What does it mean to be a professional, and how many of the people at your jobsite match that general description? Managers try to accomodate their people to a large degree, but there’s reasonable limits on that stuff. At the end of the day, everyone’s assembled to try and achieve a result. If that’s not what’s happening, something’s wrong.

    • I’ve been doing my job since I am in the company, killing myself, working over time all the time and never been recognized for my work, my common sense, my intelligence, my creativity to solve problems, etc. The bully person was supposed to include me in a job, and she didn’t. I raised it up and warned my boss, but never heard me. Now am I alone trying to solve the mess the bully did. And she not only talks negatively about me in the office, but also, I have to fix all the problems she created. Not fair at all!

  13. I work for a bully boss and have come to see her as someone who is very insecure about her job. I try to be pleasant and kind with her as much as possible. Seems the more understanding that I appear to see where she’s coming from, the nicer she is towards me. This came into play during a department meeting when I smiled the whole time and appeared to be supportive, while everyone else was upset and horrified. Even if she appears to act more like a friend, I’d never trust her.

  14. One important strategy would be to focus on strengthening positive relationships with others, especially your boss and your subordinates and other peers. Your confidence should be derived from positive relationships. Your confidence, positive attitude and calm will kill the bully’s confidence. Once your boss and other senior folks know you well, the bully’s negative attacks will backfire on her or him.. Once you feel you have reached more than comfortable trust bond with your boss, consider exposing the bully at the right time. Be careful here. If you are not comfortable dont expose but building positive relationships with others will definitely help.. This is game changing.

  15. Ramesh, I totally agree. I’ve tried the nice thing, it doesn’t work! And why is that , that the bosses back them? Are they scared of the BULLY?

    • Yes Nancy, you’re right. In my almost two decades in the corporate sector career, I have observed that bullies get away with their acts simply because they happen to be more competent than the boss, and hence the boss has no choice but to overlook the excesses of the bully. Guess the boss thinks it’s a small price to pay for getting away with his incompetence (covered by the bully).

  16. Eswari Kalugasalam Lawson

    I have dealt with work bullies at every stage of my career. After 20 years of working, I still have to deal with it. I have learnt that you don’t ever, ever stoop to their level. Always remain calm and speak with dangerous calmness. It spooks workplace bullies that they can’t get under your skin. Most importantly, always perform and exceed expectations. Let your work speak for you. If their voice or presence bothers you, find a way to shut them out. Practice selective hearing. A bully will stop at nothing to make you feel small. Remember always that they will only succeed if you allow them to get into your head.

  17. I work with one of these. No matter how right you might be, or how much the negative nellie attacks, if you challenge this worker type, you look unprofessional. Someone is going to hear or see (or that bully will make sure to tell them about it…leaving out their habitual negative behavior) and turn it into a tale of woe to benefit themself. Usually in the hearing of a “boss”. The 3rd party is not going to know the background. The most toxic person I’ve worked with is an attorney–always plotting to save face and make you into the idiot. So avoid at all costs, and walk away. I’ve seen it all. Get out your book for “Working With Difficult People” and put it on your desk. The first thing you will see is that you can impact it positively–and that behind every encounter, two people are at work–use your side to reduce the friction, that you may inadvertently (or actively!) contributing to.

    • I am so glad I came across this article and all of the comments……….it has really helped me because I just got a new job, I was one of 5 people hired for this company at the same time. And one coworker in particular is extremely insecure, insensitive, and full of very nasty comments. When I first started……things were fine between us, but then the trainer asked us to use constructive criticism to talk about each of our performance on an activity………When I said something about her performance that she didn’t like, she became extremely vengeful, asking the other 3 workers out to eat without inviting me, making unnecessarily cruel comments when I participate in activities in front of the group, making statements such as I should have stayed at home and not come to work…………..its unbelievable…….Im not sure that I should tell someone in administration about this because I was just hired and don’t want to be viewed as a whiner……….but I am basically trusting God and having faith that He will handle this issue.

  18. Point 1 is a ridiculous one. It will almost never work, as such delinquents never appreciate kindness in the first place. Such bullies at workplaces are control-freaks, and are often backed by their bosses. The best way, in my experience, is to remove oneself from their presence.

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