You grew up with them. They were the insecure kids who were the tattletales and fault-finders. You might have dated one or two in college. Your reaction was always the same: Get away as quickly as possible. Now that they're all grown up, you work with one or more and you can't run away. Insecure colleagues at work stir up rumors, tell supervisors about other people's mistakes to make themselves look good, and run people down when those people aren't around to defend themselves. They need professional help. You only need to learn to deal with them.
Act civilly with insecure colleagues, but remember that they make themselves feel bigger by running people down. Don't tell insecure coworkers about your personal life, lest they add lurid details and start rumors that turn a quiet weekend alone with your cat into a booze-soaked, drug-fueled weekend of debauchery. Such rumors can lead employers to question the wisdom of continuing your employment.
Play by the office or company rules and policies. Insecure coworkers are still the same tattletales they were in elementary school. They'll tell your supervisor about anything that may make you look worse because they think it makes them look better.
Band together informally with other workers. Insecure coworkers have many of the characteristics of bullies, according to Margaret Kohut, in "The Complete Guide to Understanding, Controlling and Stopping Bullies and Bullying at Work." By standing together, you have a network to support you should an insecure colleague sabotage you or your work.
Apologize for being so busy when insecure colleagues accost you and begin to tell you the latest rumor or to disparage another worker. Don't involve yourself in their problem. You can't run away from them completely, but you have a full day's work when you arrive at your job. If you apologize sincerely for being too busy to talk, you're less likely to offend them and make yourself the next target of their illness.
Contact your supervisor should you ever feel threatened or harassed by an insecure colleague. Napoleon is often characterized as insecure because of his height. He conquered most of Europe in the early 19th century, but only at the cost of 916,000 of his fellows. Similarly, a colleague's insecurities may lead to actions which endanger you and your other coworkers.
- The Complete Guide to Understanding, Controlling and Stopping Bullies and Bullying at Work; Margaret R. Kohut
- The Oxford Companion to Military History; Richard Holmes, Hew Strachen et al.
- Don't confront the insecure colleague. Leave that to your supervisor should it become necessary.
- Take care not to speak or behave in a patronizing manner when dealing with an insecure coworker. Insecure colleagues are bullies. Don't be afraid of them, but don't invite adverse attention unnecessarily.
Will Charpentier is a writer who specializes in boating and maritime subjects. A retired ship captain, Charpentier holds a doctorate in applied ocean science and engineering. He is also a certified marine technician and the author of a popular text on writing local history.