How to Deal With a Mean-Spirited Coworker or Employer

Don't waste your energy thinking about the mean person.

Don't waste your energy thinking about the mean person.

You'd probably like to deal with a mean-spirited worker in the same manner that evil power plant owner Montgomery Burns deals with problematic employees -- by pressing a button that opens a trap door for the person to fall into, never to be seen again. Since you're a kind-hearted person with a distaste for prison and no technological expertise, however, this plan won't work. Before yelling, "Release the hounds!" consider some alternative strategies for dealing with the hateful among you.

Distance yourself from the mean-spirited person's attitude. Changing your mindset can reduce the impact that another person's behavior has on you. Imagine what a traumatic childhood she must have experienced to have grown up with such poor social skills.

Avoid responding to biting remarks, unless it's simply to say, "I'm sorry you feel that way," or "I'll talk to you later when you're feeling better. You seem a bit unsettled right now." Realize that the mean person wants to provoke you to responding in kind so she can create the dysfunctional environment in which she feels comfortable.

Kill her with kindness. While this may not have any effect on her behavior, you'll be able to hold your head up high. There's always a chance that she'll begin to see just how silly her behavior looks after being confronted with your non-stop smiling face day after day.

View each interaction with your civility-impaired colleague as an opportunity for growth. Tony Schwartz, author of "Be Excellent at Anything," writes in the "Harvard Business Review" that it is helpful to remember that events that feel awful in the moment often turn out to be trivial or steps on the path to a new opportunity or direction.

Document the person's mean remarks and actions. If the behavior escalates or becomes intolerable, you'll have evidence to make your case. Make your supervisor aware of the situation so that she is not taken by surprise should you decide to request her assistance in dealing with the person.

Tip

  • Enjoy the rest of your life. Don't ruin dinner with your loved ones by complaining about the mean person, for example. Don't allow her any space in your mind when you are not dealing directly with her.

Warnings

  • One bad apple can spoil the bunch, causing high turnover and low productivity. If you're a manager, reform the mean-spirited person or let them go.
  • Constantly dealing with hostility at work may create health problems. If you are unable to change the situation, and it is becoming intolerable, consider changing jobs.
 

About the Author

Elise Wile has been a writer since 2003. Holding a master's degree in curriculum and Instruction, she has written training materials for three school districts. Her expertise includes mentoring, serving at-risk students and corporate training.

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