Managing Counterproductive Office Behaviour (Part 1)

For a manager, the subordinates are the internal customers. Managing relationship with coworkers and employees starts with understanding their personalities and behaviour. Professional behaviour is expected in an office, but personalities do filter through this expectation. Some behaviours can be accommodated while some are intolerable. Managers and coworkers will need to understand these personalities and how to handle them effectively. Career growth requires a productive office personality, it is crucial in helping develop a positive and productive behaviour. Some employee are not aware of their behaviour while some understand their behaviour but cannot unlearn the behaviour. This article identifies and describes a few of these behaviours and tips on managing them.

The Complainer

The complainer in the office is typically the employee who always finds something to complain about on the job, whether it includes the amount of hours they work, the assignments they get, or simply the type of coffee in the break room. They love to circulate bad news and feed off the misery of others. They were most likely a model employee, but then probably had too many confrontations with coworkers or negative comments from upper management.

According to Manfres F.R.Kets de Vries in his Harvard Business Review article on Managing a Chronic Complainer, chronic complainers in the workplace are toxic not only to themselves but also to the people around them.  He explained that complaining is a habit often formed in childhood, which arises from a need for validation and attention and over time can alter the neural pathways in the brain and become a part of the personality, which makes it hard to deal with.  

He suggests that offering sympathy and solutions is unlikely to change this behavior and if you encounter it in the workplace the best approach is to set limits on the complaining, by pointing out that complaints should be about specific issues that can be resolved.  You should also suggest that the complainer express appreciation and gratitude at moments that they feel the urge to complain.  With coaching and therapy, it may be possible for a chronic complainer to shift their pattern of behaviour and become more constructive.

For a manager when handling a complainer personality:

  • Try to keep their views in perspective.
  • Direct their negativity toward more positive views.
  • Instead of listening to their opinions, form your own.
  • Don’t let their cynical views blur your vision of the office.


The primary mission of the office gossiper is to know and share the latest scoop of the office; and if they don’t know it, they’ll simply make it up. They have a need to feel important and think that since they hold the key to the best information, this puts them on top. A gossiper will purposely seek those who are willing to listen and feed on the attention. While they believe this type of behavior makes them more likable and popular, it can actually have the opposite effect, making them untrustworthy and undependable. 

According to Wayne Elsey in the Forbes article on ways to ward off gossip in the workplace, Gossiping can mean disaster for colleague relationships. As in life, trust is essential in any workplace. It can easily lead to a hostile work environment.  If unaddressed, gossip leads to a lack of teamwork and a communication breakdown because colleagues feel the disrespect. Gossip can also harm the reputation of a company.

Tips when handling a gossiper personality:

  • Avoid engaging in their gossip or rumors.
  • State that you are not interested in what they may have to offer.
  • Do not pass on information they may have passed on to you.
  • Avoid discussing any personal matters near them, unless you want the entire office to know. 


There are several types of office bullies with several different characteristics, but their behavior is generally the same. Bullies look to dominate and control their work area. They often insult or downplay their coworkers, or their performance, in order to distract from theirs. Bullies have their own ‘growl’ that they use to make employees fear them and comply with what they say. Only when they feel like they have control and power will they feel happy.

According to Anton Hout, founder of, eight bully types were described as follows in the article 8 Most Common Bully Personalities, retrieved from

  • The Screaming Mimi. This is the most easily recognizable type of workplace bully. Screaming Mimis are loud and obnoxious, and their abusive behavior is meant to berate and humiliate people. They thrive on the notion that others fear them.
  • The Two-Headed Snake. To a co-worker’s face, this employee acts like a trusted friend or colleague. However, when the co-worker is out of earshot, this person will destroy his colleague’s reputation, stab him in the back and even take credit for his work.
  • The Constant Critic. This bully’s goal is to dismantle other people’s confidence through constant – and often unwarranted – criticism. A critic will look for any possible flaw in someone’s work and labours tirelessly to kill that person’s credibility. 
  • The Gatekeeper. Every office has at least one employee who gets off on wielding his or her power over others – regardless of whether that power is real or perceived. Gatekeepers deny people the tools they need – whether it’s resources, time or information – to do their jobs efficiently.
  •  The Attention Seeker. This type of bully wants to be the center of the action at all times. They’ll try to get on their superior’s good side through consistent flattery and even come on as kind and helpful to their peers – especially the newer employees. However, if co-workers don’t provide the right amount of attention, these bullies can quickly turn on them.
  • The Wannabe. This is an employee who sees himself or herself as absolutely indispensable and expects recognition for everything. But Wannabes aren’t usually very good at their jobs. To compensate, these bullies spend a majority of their time watching more competent workers and looking for areas of skilled workers’ performance to complain about.
  • The Guru. Generally, there’s nothing wrong with this bully’s work performance. What these bullies offer in technical skill, however, they severely lack in emotional maturity.

Gurus see themselves as being superior to their co-workers. As a result, they don’t consider how their actions will affect others, aren’t able to fathom the possibility that they can be wrong and don’t accept responsibility for their own actions. 

  • The Sociopath. Intelligent, well-spoken, charming and charismatic, sociopaths are the most destructive bullies of all. Reason: They have no empathy for others, yet they are experts at manipulating the emotions of others to get what they want.

Tips when handling a bully personality:

  • Don’t try to challenge them. This only feeds their bully persona.
  • Don’t take their remarks personally. Chances are it’s really not about you.
  • Avoid trying to please them. They can normally not be satisfied so easily.
  • When addressing their behavior, do it privately and calmly.

It can be easier to identify these behaviours from others, but it is better to self-assess on the counterproductive behaviours we take to the office environment before it negatively affects career growth and the organisation.

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