03/28/2008 02:48 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Jerks At Work

Dear Christine,

There is a woman I work with - actually she is my direct colleague and we have the same title, same boss, and similar responsibilities - and she absolutely drives me crazy. She's emotional, always has to get her opinion heard, and monopolizes a lot of attention. And to top it off, she is not very accountable and often takes days just to return a simple email. I pride myself on my integrity, take my work very seriously, and find her distracting. I really do enjoy my job but I don't enjoy her and she's affecting my enthusiasm. How do I deal with her? Should I confront her about her behavior? -Annoyed at work, 27, Pittsburg

Dear Annoyed at Work,

First, do not confront her . . . yet. You are way too fired up because of your judgments and confronting her now would only resemble a sibling spat. There is a way to resolve this that doesn't involve her at all. In order to handle this situation with the integrity you claim to have, you must look at this from both a business and personal growth perspective.

Let's start with the business. Any successful business person must learn to deal with myriad personality types. If rising to the top ranks is your goal, you better learn this lesson now. The mental energy you are investing in her counteracts your focus and dedication to your work. It affects your productivity, and thus, the productivity of the company. Companies with employees who support each other are more efficient, so stop the trash talk going on in your head. Instead of seeing beyond her behavior and concentrating on how you contribute to the overall vision of the company, you are allowing this woman to affect your enthusiasm. That is a choice, so choose to redirect your focus.

You say you share similar roles and responsibilities, so there must be something about this woman that your employer finds integral to the job you share. The two of you probably compliment each other. Rather than focusing your attention on what she doesn't do well, look to what she does do well. And if your answer is "nothing," you are too blinded by your own position to see clearly. Any great leader or manager identifies and encourages the strengths in others.

A professional perspective check is step one to resolving this inside yourself. Let's take it to a deeper level. From a psychological standpoint, what is going on here is called projection. Projection is defined by Webster's as "the attribution of one's own ideas, feelings, or attitudes to other people or to objects, especially the externalization of blame, guilt, or responsibility as a defense against anxiety." It's a defense mechanism we all have. It's much easier to point a finger at someone than to own the things we don't like about ourselves.

In their book, The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz write: "Projection is an especially insidious defense against facing the truth...It involves attributing one's own unacknowledged impulses to others. We often see anger or hatred or arrogance or greed in those around us, rather than fully owning these same feelings in ourselves . . . Difficult or unpleasant as it may be to accept, we often feel most hostile to those who remind us of aspects of ourselves that we prefer not to see."

Your first reaction may be, "I am absolutely nothing like this woman." Although normal, defensive thinking is a dead-end. Consider: How are you like her? In what aspects of your own life are you unaccountable? Do you keep your word to yourself? Really? Ever promised you'd change a behavior or take on a new routine and not followed through? Are there times when you are righteous and fight for your opinion? Do you secretly crave the attention your coworker generates by being emotional and boisterous?

If you abandon righteousness and are truly honest with yourself, you just may see that in many ways you are just like her. Identifying your similarities with this woman will lift the charge from this situation. By understanding ourselves, we can understand others better. Fortunately, we are never at a loss for this opportunity as there are always plenty of people around to push our buttons.

There also may be aspects of her personality that you've set up invisible barriers against, maybe because you possess those same qualities, but also because perhaps you fear them. This loud woman who pushes to get her opinions heard can be considered confrontational. You may not be a confrontational person, shy away from it, and are channeling you inner demons into a throbbing dislike of your coworker. If this is the case, analyze the qualities that you fear in her, and address them. She wont be the last person who edges too close to your personal bubble of emotional protection, so learn to handle it.

So now that I've encouraged you to own your end of this, that doesn't mean her unaccountable behavior should just be dismissed. Once you get your own emotions out of the way, I have a feeling that dealing with her effectively will become clearer. Maybe it's having a conversation with her about how you'd like to be in better communication since you are cohorts. Support her in her accountability by including, "please respond today" in the first line of your emails. Remember, integrity is not just about having integrity in your own little world. Part of living a life with integrity is not judging or condemning people, but rather learning how to interact with them in a way that supports both your and their personal and professional growth. - Christine

Please send me your questions by posting them in the comments section below. You can also email me at

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