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The Right Way to Complain About a Bothersome Coworker

By Maurie Backman - May 2, 2018 at 6:45AM

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We all have those coworkers we try to avoid. Here's what to do when you can't shake that one toxic colleague.

If you work in an office, you probably have that one coworker who constantly gets under your skin. Maybe it's the ultra-competitive type who will stop at nothing to put you down and get ahead. Or maybe it's the know-it-all who refuses to believe that anyone else is capable of rendering intelligent solutions in the context of work.

The problem, of course, is that having a toxic coworker can not only make you miserable, in some cases, it can inhibit your productivity. And in a study last year by leadership development firm Fierce, Inc., more than 52% of U.S. employees said that a single colleague increased their stress level at work. Meanwhile, 13% said that an irksome coworker increased their likelihood of picking up and leaving their jobs altogether.

Female and male at laptops, glaring at one another


Clearly, you can't let a nasty coworker ruin your life on the job forever. The question is: How do you formally complain about that person in a manner that doesn't make you look bad yourself? After all, as an employee, you're expected to make an effort to get along with your peers and learn to work with them.

While reporting a bothersome colleague to a manager or HR representative can be uncomfortable at best, it's a step you might eventually need to take. Here's how to handle the situation so that your reputation doesn't take a beating in the process.

1. Keep a record of your coworker's inappropriate behavior

Running to your manager or human resources department the first time a colleague acts out of turn might backfire in that you'll come off as petty and impatient. Though you don't want to let things build up too much, a better approach is to establish a pattern of uncalled for behavior on the part of your coworker. Keep a spreadsheet listing the date and time of each incident in which your colleague acts inappropriately, along with a detailed description of what went down. If there were other people who witnessed your coworker's actions, jot down that information as well. Chances are, that colleague will deny his or her behavior, so you might need others for backup.

2. Present your complaint in the context of your performance, not your feelings

Having an overbearing or obnoxious coworker can make you unhappy on a personal level, but that's not really something you need to share with your boss. A better approach is to highlight the ways that colleague is negatively impacting your performance, whether it's sabotaging your efforts on key projects or interrupting you when you're trying to hammer out assignments to meet deadlines. Keeping the focus of that discussion on the work side of things, not the personal side, is apt to make more of an impression on the higher-up you're speaking to.

3. Affirm your commitment to working things out

One final way to complain about a coworker without damaging your own standing at your company is to make it clear that your goal is not to have your colleague fired or kicked off the team, but rather, to find a way to work well together. This will help you look more professional in an otherwise awkward situation. Better yet, come in with suggestions of your own as to what might help, and simply ask your boss or HR representative to act as an intermediary of sorts.

Dealing with a bothersome coworker is never fun. Follow these tips, and with any luck, you'll get the intervention you need to stop that colleague from ruining an otherwise decent job.

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