Simone Newman and Jackie O’Malley are 2 small town girls hoping to turn office lemons into lemonade to share with their readers. They dare to dream of a workplace where normalcy and fair play reign and for that they both wrote a book titled: It’s Them or You! Surviving the Cast of Characters in Your Workplace (Link). It’s a handy and humorous field guide to typical coworker character types, created to aid readers in the Darwinian world of today’s office environment.
Newman and O’Malley have gathered descriptions of 58 unique, difficult character types that lurk in hallways and cubicles, making their coworkers’ lives more difficult by the day. Ranging from various types of wannabe office Romeos with playful nicknames such as “Captain Caveman” and “Closet Serial Killer,” to “The Southern Belle from Hell,” each character is described in short, humorous profiles. They were kind enough to share 5 character types with us here:
The menace of any workplace, the Delegator:
The Delegator is amazingly adept at avoiding work. His work becomes someone else’s as quickly as he can forward an e-mail or dial his assistant’s telephone number. His concern is never how to address a problem or fulfill his responsibilities; rather, it’s about to whom and how quickly he can hand over the problem or farm out his duties. The Delegator has convinced himself he deserves a paycheck (and a bonus) merely for his physical presence in the workplace.
The Delegator likes to display leadership books about success through empowering employees in the workplace. He feels there is no better “empowerment” than giving others his work. He never produces anything, never follows up on anything, even if it requires his input or action, takes smoke breaks and an hour lunch, talks on the phone to his friends all day, leaves at 4:00 p.m., and sleeps like a baby. The Delegator always shows up at meetings without paper or a pen. He wants to let everyone know he takes no responsibility for remembering or doing anything.
If you are lucky, your boss is a Delegator because he’s retired in place–and will be retiring real soon. If that’s the case, you can get through performing double duty because there is an end in sight. However, if your boss is just a lazy, good-for-nothing incompetent, look on the bright side. It’s possibly better than having a boss in your face every day.
She can’t sit with her back to a window or a door. She can’t drive over a bridge. She can’t, she can’t, she can’t. She’s a Neurotic Mess, and the one thing you wish she couldn’t do is leave her house. The workplace, hell the whole world, would be better off without her compulsive whining and anxiety.
No situation can completely satisfy the Neurotic Mess, and the workplace is no exception. Everything must be on her terms at all times. Instead of realizing she has personal issues that only she can resolve, she expects everybody to accommodate her. If your cubicle is next to hers, be careful to not talk above a stage whisper. If the decibel level rises too high, the Neurotic Mess will be convinced that everyone purposely wants to disrupt her concentration. She will run hysterically to her boss and demand a private office even though her position and duties do not merit one. The Neurotic Mess raises so much ruckus most people just give in to her.
Avoid this person so you are not driven as crazy as she is. The Neurotic Mess can never be appeased, so don’t fantasize that someday she will be cured. For every one of her “can’ts,” you must have a “don’t.” As in: don’t go to lunch with her, don’t walk anywhere with her, don’t give her the time of day. Give her only the minimum professional courtesy. Remember, the Neurotic Mess will take the proverbial mile if given an inch. Your motto must be: Don’t make your problem my problem.
The Humble Self-Promoter:
The Humble Self-Promoter (HSP) is a classic passive-aggressive type. He has perfected the art of patting himself on the back indirectly by disparaging others, thereby looking good in comparison. The first thing he does when starting a new job is complain to his most powerful ally about the poor condition of the office and the incompetence of his predecessor, greatly exaggerating on both accounts. This is crucial because he wants everyone to know what a mess he inherited. This way, if anything at all improves, it’s clearly because of him.
One of the HSP’s favorite tactics to discredit others is the backhanded compliment. If his boss asks him how Dick is doing, he says “Dick is really improving and has started to make some good contributions to the team.” Translation: Since my arrival, Dick is showing signs of life. The Humble Self-Promoter surrounds himself with people who can’t see through him. His favorite people are those who are so dense they not only think he is great, but also kindhearted because of the nice things he says about his staff like, “I’ve got to hand it to Jane. She’s really trying.” Translation: Jane is persistently stupid.
If the Humble Self-Promoter figures out you are on to him, you become his adversary. You have three choices: (1) ignore the behavior; (2) use similar tactics as the Humble Self-Promoter in his presence only, hinting you”re on to him; or (3) don’t allow him to insinuate–instead ask him to clarify his remarks in a group setting (e.g., “Are you saying Paul is really trying but isn’t catching on?”) Which method you choose should depend on how damaging an adversarial relationship with the HSP would be to your career, but more likely will depend on your tolerance for slimy behavior.
This emperor was known for extreme cruelty. Supposedly he would delight in humiliating and torturing his subjects. Many times this torture would end with a mercy killing of the victim. No such luck in your office. Your boss is a sadistic maniac, and he likes it that way.
You can never please this kind of boss. Your work may be beyond reproach, your attendance beyond the mandatory forty-hour week, and your attitude pleasant and helpful. That’s not going to help you with Caligula. He will still be unreasonable, displeased, and downright nasty.
When Caligula starts getting angry, calmly hold your ground. Don’t argue; merely stick to the facts in a flat tone of voice. If he continues to harangue you, excuse yourself and tell him you will continue the conversation when he cools off. You don’t want to ever escalate an incident. He may continue to be ill-tempered, but you don’t have to put up with abuse. If his behavior continues, you may need to find greener (and safer) pastures.
Promise the Moon
“Oh yes, we can do that. No problem at all.” “Sure, we can take that on with no additional resources.” “We will certainly exceed expectations.” These are the types of statements a Promise the Moon supervisor is always rattling off. She will never say no to her superiors. Ensuring that she keeps her promises is your problem.
When you try to tell her you don’t have the resources to accomplish what she volunteered you for, she tells you to make it happen. When you explain to her you aren’t even the right department to take on such a project, she says it’s time to spread your wings. When you patiently and exactingly show her the timeline to which she acquiesced is logistically impossible to meet, she says find a way. When you plead that you are already spread too thin and taking this on would mean your core responsibilities would suffer, she coolly informs you to consider this another one of your core responsibilities.
Besides going over and around Promise the Moon to get the support you need, there aren’t too many alternatives. One possibility is to make a preemptive strike. You can present an outline to Promise the Moon showing all of your staff member’s duties and the resources needed for each to accomplish the necessary goals. Clearly spell out there are no additional resources. This may not stop Promise the Moon from continually volunteering you for more tasks, but it may slow her down, prepare her for your reaction, or steel her for potential failure.