3 Signs that You’re a Bad Colleague

Elida Melova

Elida MelovaProfessor of English Language and Literature at West End Academy

Friday, August 10, 2018

The workplace brings together a mélange of personalities who need to be able to have a professional and a civil relationship with each other. Knowing when you’re jeopardizing that relationship is vital. Here are 3 signs to look out for.

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Establishing a positive working environment can go a long way in terms of achieving success. When the people who work together are aware that their professional and personal behavior affects everybody else’s productivity, they can keep building and growing the company they work for.

Often we work with colleagues that we perceive as bad for the work environment and damaging to our professionalism. Unfortunately, sometimes, we fall under that category. More often than not, we aren’t even aware of it.

The first step, like in many other aspects in life, is admitting that we have a problem, or more precisely, that we are the problem.

Being a bad colleague is not a characterization we would happily accept about ourselves. And why? Well, because we are (almost) perfect: we know how to get things done, we are confident in our skills, we are excellent communicators and we don’t gossip and oversocialize with others because let’s face it – they aren’t our friends – they are simply our coworkers.

Perfect, huh? The reality might be a bit different. Even so, there is hope. Recognizing the signs of a bad colleague and understanding toxic behavior  can lead towards self-improvement on our part.

In order to be able to make progress, here are a list of behaviors to look out for:

1. Being overconfident

We live in a world where self-confidence in the workplace is perceived as a positive character trait. It is presumed that we base that confidence on our knowledge, our experience and that we know how to get things done. However, we often tend to exaggerate our qualities and we don’t deliver great results, despite of our self-assurance.

The problems which arise from this are:

  • We don’t try hard enough to complete a certain task
  • We undermine our coworkers
  • We never accept that we have made a mistake
  • We don’t take full responsibility for failures, thinking it’s everybody else’s fault but ours
  • We stagnate in terms of personal growth

Luckily for us, there is a solution to this problem. The solution can be broken down into questions we need to ask ourselves:

  • Which are my colleagues’ best qualities?
  • Do I admire their work ethics?
  • Did I make a mistake on the last task?
  • If I had the chance to do the task over, what would I do differently? Is there a colleague who could help me in some aspects of it?
  • How often do I show appreciation for a job well done?
  • When was the last time I learnt something new? What was that? Did it make me a better person?

These questions can help us in our self-exploration and can help us understand others and ourselves better, which in turn, will result in a more productive and a more pleasant work environment.

In fact, the honest answers will probably lead towards a better collaboration, a better exchange of ideas and a desire to learn new things and advance professionally.

Another benefit of toning-down our overconfidence is being able to communicate better with our coworkers. And this leads us to the second sign of being a bad colleague: bad communication.

2. Lacking good communication skills

Communication is an integral part of humanity, and in the modern society we live in, good communication skills are crucial if we want to be heard and understood.

Poor communication can be detrimental to the entire company and can result in a negative atmosphere, loss of funds, broken deals, liability etc.

There are several reasons why coworkers face difficulties communicating with each other. Some of them are:

  • A clash of egos
  • A lack of emotional intelligence and social awareness
  • An unwillingness to take responsibility and blaming others for failures

Having a huge ego can prevent us from reasonably assessing a certain situation and acting accordingly. Even if we realize that we are wrong, we wouldn’t admit it for fear of being perceived as lesser than other coworkers.

Sometimes, our lack of emotional intelligence can be an obstacle when it comes to solving various conflicts in the workplace. It is extremely important to constantly nurture an environment where emotional intelligence can grow and develop. This will result in greater self-control and the ability to recognize a potential for compromise.

Contrary to the two previously mentioned reasons for faulty communication, where we might be unaware of our character flaws, the third one is quite the opposite. When we refuse to take responsibility for failed projects and unfinished tasks and we blame others, it means that we artificially create a situation where we promote poor communication.

Again, we aren’t hopeless. There are still improvements that can be made. Whenever you feel like you can see eye to eye with somebody and you can’t get your message across, try doing these simple things:

  • Imagine that you are in a debate club and you need to defend your colleague’s stand – you will find yourself searching for reasons why he/she is right
  • Ask your colleague to do the same – explain that successful communication is a two way street and you both need to make the effort
  • Practice self-control and focus on finding a compromise for the issue at hand
  • Learn how to show greater respect towards colleagues and try imagining what it would be like if you were deprived of earned acknowledgement

All in all, walking a mile in somebody else’s shoes can give you a new and fresh perspective. It’s important to remember that everybody wins when colleagues have good communication skills.

3. Gossiping at work

Although there is often a need to feel like you belong at your workplace, the way to do that is definitely not through gossiping. And there are many reasons why you shouldn't gossip at work.

Firstly, you will lose respect among colleagues and your personal feelings can and probably will interfere with your work performance.

Secondly, forming alliances with colleagues can contribute to poor communication and collaboration with other colleagues who are not on “your team”. Negative personal feelings towards colleagues need to be set aside while working in order to not jeopardize the reputation of the company and the professional balance.

There are ways to take the high road when it comes to gossiping:

  • Try to remain as neutral as possible in work relations with coworkers
  • Whenever somebody starts gossiping, subtly change the topic; people will soon realize that you aren’t such a welcoming audience for bad-mouthing and belittling colleagues
  • Be as professional as possible; don’t overshare details of your personal life that can be used against you one day

In conclusion, some introspection from time to time can be very useful if you wish to improve yourself after realizing that you yourself can indeed be the bad colleague everybody dislikes.

Self-improvement will inevitably lead towards an improvement in any aspect of your working environment, so it’s worth a shot.

Author: Elida Melova has a BA in English Language and Literature and is Professor of English Language and Literature at West End Academy.

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