My Horrible Co-Worker: Actionable Ways to Overcome Them Without Being a Jerk

Every project seemed to sink. It was one person’s fault too! You know the person. We all do. That one employee who is just good enough, yet hurts more than they help. They make themselves look good at the expense of others. Selfishness at their core.

A few years ago in a previous role in another industry our team managed large scale software rollouts to major enterprise clients. Each team member had important functions to perform. Most of us did them. One person did not.

They were educated. They had experience. They didn’t use either; they did surf the internet a lot though. They dropped the ball on every project. Then blamed the people who actually did the work. Then they would work late to try and fix their own mistakes while still blaming others for the problem. Often they looked like the hero. It was a genius plan. Even worse, it worked multiple times.

When someone goes behind our back, blames us for thing they caused, or in some other way hurts us, we experience strong negative emotions. Each person can feel that same experience in a different manner though.

“Humans vary greatly in the way they experience emotions. Even after practice and effort, you can’t really control how you feel. But you can control your reactions to those feelings.” – Justin Bariso

When dealing with a horrible coworker – the thing that must be fixed first is your mindset. Your frame of mind will determine the outcome. This is based on the science of brain and emotional neuroplasticity. The theory of Self-directed neuroplasticity was developed by Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz and is the idea that we can consciously control how we want our brains to work.

To take proper action and get the correct mindset we must emotionally disconnect from the situation. This is not ignoring or moving on, this is the science and art of not worrying about things outside of your control so you can focus on things you can control. This is about emotional intelligence in action. This is awareness and then management of emotions.

Peter Bregman, the expert consultant and author of 18 Minutes and 4 Seconds said:

“Our ability to resist an impulse determines our success in learning a new behavior or changing an old habit. It’s probably the single most important skill for our growth and development.”

When we experience a negative event we can take specific actions that will help us Emotionally Disconnect. The four step process is:

  • reClassify – Identify what you are feeling then assign a label of being real or imagined. Once an emotion has a name and classification
  • reDefine – You give meaning to everything. Nothing has meaning until we give it meaning. If something has a negative meaning, you can change the definition.
  • reCenter – The center is your focus. You get what you focus on. Stop focusing on the things that bring your down about the current event or situation, instead focus on the things that you can control. Center your mind around your own attitude and actions.
  • reAdjust – We believe the stories we tell ourselves. Tell yourself that the person you are dealing with is not bad, that they are good. Adjust your thought process to want to help them. Your whole world will change.

Once our mindset is correct we can then take calm, educated, calculated, actions that in the end will help the other person as well as helping ourselves. As we focus on helping ourselves, we will very rarely win or feel complete. As we focus on helping the other person, even when they have wronged us, we can find true satisfaction in our professional and personal lives.

In order to make the relationship work I knew I had to change my behavior. While I was not doing anything wrong , I wasn’t doing what I needed to be doing. (much like what brought Nokia down…)

With my mindset in a position to grow and change and I decided to take 4 specific actions:

1. 6 Second Rule

I committed to not reacting for 6 seconds. Every time I felt a negative emotion coming I would spend at least 6 seconds focusing on a deep breath. This allowed me time to adjust my mindset.

2. Smile More

People can sense how you feel about them. They know when you don’t like them. Emotions are contagious. The fastest way to change and emotion is to do something physical. Exercises is good but not always possible. So I decided to smile. I smiled more at everyone, especially when I greeted this co-worker. I smiled to make myself happier but more importantly to let the other person know I was a friend not an enemy.

“…smiles have many different facets and meanings to different people, including light, appreciation, love, acceptance, sympathy, kindness and humor…to be more conscious of our smiles, and to actively and compassionately offer an authentic, from-the-heart smile to as many people as possible…” – Kathy Caprino

3. Take Them to Lunch

The focus was to listen. Listen and listen. Listening shows care. When someone feels like you are concerned about them, that you care about them, they begin to care about you

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4. Ask for What is Needed

Step 1 helps you not destroy trust while steps 2 and 3 help to build trust. They are genuine, not manipulative ways to learn more about another person and get them to see you as a person as well. Once people connect with people, relationships get strong. As I smiled and listened our trust grew. The final step was to let the person know what I needed help with. Not in an accusatory manner, but rather in a friendly “this is what will help me approach.”


Amazing. Not an overnight turnaround but the ship did turnaround and the work got done. The projects went smoother and the relationship grew stronger because of the ability to emotionally disconnect from every negative situation. Then I could take correct actions. Those actions would not have been possible if the instant emotions controlled my actions rather than my self-directed conscious thoughts.