Handling a know-it-all buttinski

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How do you deal with a co-worker who has to be the center of attention? “Kristen” butts into every conversation, constantly talks about herself, and thinks she’s right on every issue. Then she wonders why people don’t ask her to go to lunch. Help!

-Tired of Listening

Sounds like a bad mix of personalities: a self-centered verbal bully and a bunch of nice, polite folks who are uncomfortable taking charge of the situation. Two choices seem obvious: either continue to be victimized by her intimidation tactics or develop a conversational backbone. People like this can only walk over you if you lie down in front of them.

To change Kristen’s behavior, you first need to change your own. When she butts into the conversation, butt right back and don’t allow her to take over. If she inappropriately shifts the topic to herself, listen without responding, then continue on with your previous discussion.

She always thinks she’s right? Well, who cares? Unless the issue directly affects you, let her think anything she likes. Don’t waste your time on pointless debates.

Kristen can only become the center of attention if you and your co-workers put her there. But if you consistently refuse to yield the floor, your domineering colleague will eventually learn to wait her turn. So ignore her when she’s being obnoxious, but respond warmly when she converses appropriately. And if she really improves, invite her to have lunch.

I’m the supervisor of a team whose work has to be reviewed by Quality Assurance. The QA guy always complains to my boss without coming to me first. Even though I try to defend my position, my boss is starting to question my ability. The QA guy doesn’t understand what we do, but he still tells us to redo our work. This is causing confusion and wasted effort on our team. How can I get this guy to stop being such a jerk?

-Andrea

Tattletale co-workers are undeniably annoying. But the main problem seems to be that no one has clearly defined what your team should be doing. That makes this a management issue, not a co-worker issue. Exactly what standards do they expect you to meet?

Although QA folks automatically have a somewhat adversarial relationship with those they monitor, it doesn’t have to be unpleasant. After all, QA is there for a reason, and the reviewers are just doing their job.

When standards are unclear, however, resentments often develop and relationships deteriorate.

Your best bet is to take the initiative to start clarifying expectations. First, list the specific areas of disagreement with QA and discuss this list with your boss. Ask her to arrange a meeting with the QA guy and his manager. When the four of you reach agreement on a final set of standards, put them in writing with copies to everyone involved.

The tattling also needs to stop, so during the meeting, suggest that the QA guy should come directly to you with any problems. If the two of you can’t resolve an issue, then you will involve your managers.

One more suggestion: Try not to let your personal feelings about this irritating colleague interfere with your working relationship. You may not like him, but you’re stuck with him for now, so you might as well make it as pleasant as possible.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.

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