Lynne Curry: In coping with a negative co-worker, keep focus on self

THE WORKPLACEDecember 1, 2013 

You're blameless -- but accused.

An hour ago, your supervisor hauled you into her office and read you the riot act, telling you to clean up your attitude.

Heck, there wouldn't be a problem if your co-worker hadn't created one. She's negative, controlling and manipulative. She delights in being a pain -- especially with you -- and your manager lets her get away with it.

Aren't there limits to what you're expected to put up with? And now, instead of handling the situation or apologizing to you for what you've had to put up with, your supervisor slams you, saying, "You're part of the problem."

Worse, your supervisor may be right.

When you work around a defensive, controlling person who pushes your buttons daily you can't help reacting. Walk by the desk of an uptight co-worker who gives you a look that signals you're smaller than a period and you want to ask, "What's your problem?" If you ask a co-worker a simple question and she snaps, "How should I know?" you want to growl. If you receive a rude, "Don't critique me!" when you pass on helpful information, it may push you to explode.

Soon you begin to hold a grudge or even doubt yourself. As your irritation builds, you grow resentful and negative. You feel like snarling and often do. Long after you return to your work station, you continue to steam and often take out your frustration on others. You have become part of the problem. The solution?

Don't upload poison

Negative, reactive individuals poison work environments and tarnish everyone's day. We, however, allow them to do this. Your answer -- Don't absorb your co-worker's nastiness, sink to her level nor carry her negative baggage with you. You know you've accomplished this when you don't sink to her level of rudeness by giving back "as good as you got."

Learn to detox

If you want to shed a negative encounter, immediately detox. How? -- Realize your co-worker's behavior says much about her and little about you -- then cut her some slack. None of us know what leads another to act out.

Next, take care of yourself. Do you need a minute to breathe, a walk outside, time to connect with a positive co-worker or the chance to reflect on how lucky you are you're you and not Ms. Energy Vampire? Do what you need to do to return to neutral.

Don't justify

You blow it when you respond to nastiness with anger. If you put down a rude co-worker with a smart-aleck slam dunk, you've allowed yourself to become a jerk. If you explode, you scare others and look bad. Remember -- even and especially when you can't control your co-worker, control yourself. Anything else equals cheap "she made me do it" rationalization.

Set boundaries

Avoiding responding in-kind to Ms. Nasty doesn't equal playing doormat. Energy vampires bully others -- and when you let them get away with it, they escalate. Rein them in by making it clear you won't get stomped on. How? -- Without an edge say, "I didn't deserve that. Don't do it again."

Realize every organization has one

You may ask why you have to put with nastiness. The simple answer -- Most organizations have one or more immature employees that push others' buttons. We don't work exclusively with ideal people, making it even more essential we learn not to play every game our co-workers set in motion.

Want to stay blameless? Although you can't control your colleague, you can control yourself.


Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at You can follow Lynne on Twitter @lynnecurry10 or through


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