Hate Your Co-Workers? How to Cope

The ?I Hate People? Principle

I've written a number of columns about dealing with toxic colleagues and managers at work. The tips experts and employees in the trenches have offered on the subject have been all over the map:

Kill them with kindness. Baffle them with backhanded compliments. Tell them you're onto them. Tell H.R. you're onto them. Bake them cookies. Don't bake them cookies. Bake them cookies laced with laxatives so they're out of commission for the rest of the day.

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A new business book, "I Hate People: Kick Loose From the Overbearing and Underhanded Jerks at Work and Get What You Want Out of Your Job," offers another suggestion: Duck and cover. Do everything in your power to steer clear of the people annoying, oppressing and sabotaging you at work, and you'll not only get more done, you'll likely shed a few layers of stress and enjoy your job more.

"You can't change anyone else's behavior but yours," said branding expert Marc Hershon, co-author of the book with journalist Jonathan Littman. "Unless your job description includes social worker, you're wasting your time."

Instead, these self-professed people-haters advise becoming a "soloist" -- a lean, mean productivity machine impervious to all those office oafs out to kill your creativity and throw a wrench in your workflow.

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How?

Stave Off the '10 Least Wanted'

Rather than being a mere cog in the "team-infested" corporate wheel, the authors suggest embracing your inner entrepreneur, even if your biggest innovation is simply learning how to deflect the "10 least wanted" of the workplace -- aka, your time-sucking, idea-quashing colleagues.

Take the "stop sign," the co-workers who've elevated playing devil's advocate to an art form and genuinely believe they're being helpful when they say, "We can't do that."

"You don't want that stop sign early on in a project when you're brainstorming ideas," Hershon said.

Instead, tell them, "You don't have to be there yet. We really want your input when we get a little further along," he said.

If you do find yourself in a meeting with a "stop sign" who's raining on your parade, say, "Those are great points. How about you let us get our ideas out first and we save the last 10 minutes of the meeting for the issues you're raising?" Hershon suggested.

Then there are the "flimflams," the smooth-talkers who try to stick you with their work at every turn. Because flimflams are notorious for glossing over the details about how much of your time they'll need, your best defense, say the authors, is to press them for details -- in writing.

That's what Bridget Quigg, a Web content editor in Seattle, does.

"When dealing with the pawners, I say, 'When do you need this by? Who will be reviewing this? Can it wait until next week?'" she said. "Anything to slow people down and force them to think a bit more before they walk away smiling, with their hands empty."

Dig Your Own Cave

You, of course, can't ward off each of the "10 least wanted" archetypes in quite the same way, Hershon said. You may be able to charm a "spreadsheet" (tireless enforcer of the rules) into green-lighting a deadline change, gently prod "sheeple" (those so mired in groupthink they're afraid to speak up) to contribute during meetings, or tell a "minute man" (the person always asking you "just one more question") that you're late to yet another meeting.

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