Education, whether from a formal institution or from the school of hard knocks, prepares you for the workforce. Classes in economics and business administration or years of practical experience can prepare you for the daily grind. However, it is the lessons culled from elementary school that are put to use when interacting with negative and destructive coworkers.
Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Paper
Do the work you were assigned to do. Your boss or supervisor will notice your coworker who does nothing but gossip and will notice that you are diligently working. While it is nice when coworkers can get along, you were hired to perform a certain set of tasks. Plus, working hard and immersing yourself in a project will make it easier to ignore that troublesome coworker. Should your fellow employee try to take credit for your work, back up your files and save them on your hard drive. If working with a team, do your best to ignore the negative coworker for, according to the Oprah website, the negativity can slow down the work process and drain away the trust and fun that positive coworkers can share.
If You Can't Say Something Nice . . .
Say nothing at all. Do not complain about the negativity to a colleague or, worse, your supervisor unless absolutely necessary. If you feel that your work is in jeopardy, i.e., the potential for a missed deadline or the potential for negative customer feedback, then schedule a meeting with a supervisor. Present your ideas in a calm, direct manner, citing as many facts as possible. Resist the urge to revert to childish behavior with phrases such as “he started it” or “she's trying to make me look bad.” Keep your emotions in check or you may look childish and not professional. If you must vent, talk to your partner, spouse or mother. If you must confront the coworker, keep calm and remember this sage advice from Forbes.com: “Don’t approach someone for a discussion until you can think rationally. . . . Stand up for yourself in a professional, classy manner.”
Don't Acknowledge the Behavior
Let your work speak for itself. However, you can acknowledge your coworker's negative tactics indirectly. If the rumor around the office is that you are antisocial, bring in donuts for everyone to share. Rumor is that you are lazy? Work hard and stay late at the office. Rumor is that you are a snob, or that you are cliquish or rude or immature? Again, bring in donuts. Nothing soothes or quiets the angry gossip beast like some deep-fried pastry. The reason for your coworker's bullish behavior is no different from the bully on the elementary school playground. He only bothers you because he knows that he can. Don't give him the satisfaction. Psychology Today's website advises that “resisting the trap set by difficult people is easier if you're aware of your vulnerability to getting hurt and then feeling angry.”
Don't let yourself get caught off guard. When meeting with both the troublesome colleague and the boss, have all of your work and materials at the ready. Try your best to anticipate any question your boss will have and prepare an answer. If you are in a group setting and the coworker makes an insulting joke at your expense, just smile. Exchanging sarcastic barbs at the communal lunch table can be a slippery slope that lands you both in a meeting with Human Resources. It may take time, but if you show that the negativity won't affect you or your work, your adversary will move on to an easier target.