This post is purely an ode to many of the creative and on-point scary coworker ideas I’ve received this month. Well done readers, well done. I’m sufficiently frightened. I think this Halloween, I’m working out of my home office with all of the lights on. ‘Course it doesn’t take much to freak me out. This is a guy who used to get uncomfortable simply by hearing the theme song to the American TV show “Unsolved Mysteries.” I didn’t even have to watch the show. The theme song was plenty. Pathetic.
Your Scary Coworkers
Without further adieu, this is your list of workplace monsters and scary coworkers (in no particular order):
The Office Troll – Grumpy and grotesque, this keeper of the “road” makes you pay a toll before you are permitted to pass. As one reader noted, they “wait to take your ideas after you’ve paid your toll to cross through their department.” Not only do you have to pay the toll, but you are fleeced as you pass. Nastiness. Welcome to the joys of office politics.
The Princess – I gotta be honest. This one took me by surprise. After all, what’s scary about a princess? But the more I thought about it, I realized it makes total sense. There is a fine line between princess and diva. The Diva is not pretty. They throw temper tantrums at a moment’s notice. They storm out of meetings in dramatic fashion. They are delicate, unstable and narcissistic. Woo… The only way to survive an office princess / diva is to make them the center of your workplace universe. Princess usually tend to reside in “small business” kingdoms, but I’ve seen them in non-profits, universities, retail and hospitality. Oh, and don’t be confused. Princesses can be men just as easily as they can be women.
The Faceless Coworker – I received this description from a reader and thought it was spot-on. So much so, I’m gonna let it stand on its own. No need to mess it up with my commentary. “The metaphorically Blind, Deaf, Speechless (and likely touchless and smell-less) coworker – without eyes, ears, nose, tongue or fingers. Why? — A divorce lawyer learns quickly that the opposite of love is not hate – It’s indifference. (Love and hate are close – going back and forth and erupting in emotion.) This monster ‘hates’ you by ignoring you – doesn’t see or hear or ask anything about you. [It] is simply indifferent to you and ignores you – the workplace equivalent of the high school football quarterback or prom queen who doesn’t see anything but themselves in the mirror.” I’ve seen this coworker just about everywhere. Scary.
Again, well done, folks, well done. Ya make my job easy.
Next Month’s Dysfunction: Death by Meetings. You won’t want to miss this nasty pervasive dysfunction, unless of course you don’t ever go to meetings. If that’s you and you truly never attend any meetings whatsoever, you likely live in a cave. In which case I recommend you take a shower, shave, invest in some new clothes and try socializing once and a while. It will do you some good.
I love the image of Frankenstein: a big, slow moving uncommunicative monster that lumbers along in the world. More often than not, he’s gentle and non-threatening, stopping to pet the occasional kitten. The big theme with Frankenstein is “misunderstood.” You can’t really understand him and as a result he is easy to misinterpret. When misunderstanding does occur, Frank loses his mind. He flails about, yells unintelligibly and breaks stuff. Do you work with a Frank? My guess is that you do. Perhaps one of the most common dysfunctions at work is the overall inability to clearly articulate to others what one expects. It’s messy when a coworker fails to communicate, even messier when a customer is guilty of poor communication and downright horrific when the boss is the culprit. So what can you do?
How to Work with Frankenstein
If you work with a workplace Frankenstein (aka “Frank”), you have a few options:
- Be gentle – Franks are spooked easily. Firing off question after question is a great way to elevate their blood pressure. Slow and gentle is the key. Ask simple basic questions. Questions like: “what would you like to see happen?”, “What would please you most?”, etc… Pause between each question and allow time for a response.
- Get comfortable with silence – Franks need time to process questions. What does that mean for you? You need to get comfortable sitting in silence for long periods of time. Don’t fill the space with words or chatter. Don’t try to restate your question. Don’t do anything. Just sit. Franks will come around when they are ready.
- Give him stuff to react to – Franks do not do well if you ask them to clarify what they mean. Franks also don’t do well if you ask them to tell you what they want or want of you. They don’t author. They don’t articulate. They react. If you want to work with a Frank effectively, you have to be prepared to give them things to react to. Come in with options and present them. “Frank, do you like A or B better?”, “Frank, do you mean X or Y?”, “Frank, who does things the way you prefer? Drac or Wolfie?”
- Don’t surprise him with bad news – Franks are very wary of villagers with fire and pitchforks. If bad stuff cometh, give him as much notice as possible. Don’t wait until the problem has reached Frank’s doorstep. Then it’s too late. The the arms will start flailing and stuff gets broken.
Workplace Frankenstein’s aren’t all that bad. With a little patience and effort, they are easily managed. Just don’t expect too much from them. For better or worse, working with a Frank means you are in the driver’s seat. They won’t be able to tell you much. So, if you are looking for compliments, clarity and collaboration, you need to look somewhere else. I heard Dracula has some openings, but as I’ve covered, emotional vampires have their hang-ups too.
Sometimes the problem with coworkers isn’t what you see, it’s what you don’t see that becomes the issue. When you want them to be there, they aren’t. When you try to find them, you can’t. To make matters worse, in some cases these “ghost” coworkers make such a lasting impression when the do materialize, others just simply don’t believe your story.
I believe in ghosts. This comes from personal experience. For nearly 4 years I worked with a ghost as a colleague and business partner. And man, when he materialized before a client, they were left in awe. But when the client engagement was over, so was he. He would disappear. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t seem to get him to materialize when I wanted him to. I would send him e-mails, leave him voicemails, and try other ways to wake the spirits. Nothing. The only thing that I ever found to work was to call his house, get his wife on the phone and persuade her to “wake him from the dead.”
Ghosts are tricky to work with. They are unreliable, unpredictable and usually materialize when they want to – not necessarily when you want them to. To complicate things, they love to make unexpected big entrances and positively “surprise” important people, leaving you dumbfounded, frustrated and more than a little pissed off.
How to Work with a Workplace Ghost
So what do you do if you have a workplace ghost on your hands? You have a few options:
- Figure out where they live – if you’ve ever watched any of those ghost shows or even cheesy horror flicks, you’ll hear the paranormal investigators talk about finding the part of the house that has the most paranormal activity. You need to find that room. In practical terms, this means finding out where they go when they vanish so you can plan on how you are going to communicate with them.
- Get a medium – Ghosts don’t respond to any and all mediums. You need to find the right medium in which to contact your ghost. No need to find someone with a Long Island accent, however you do need to be thoughtful about identifying a medium that works with your particular ghost. This can either be a person who has a certain connection with the individual (boss, friend or in the case of my story, a spouse) or the right kind of communication mechanism (e-mail, voicemail, Twitter, etc…). Having woken more than my fair share of spirits, I find that texting is particularly useful. It’s the 21st century version of the ouija board.
- Threaten to leave the house – Deep down, ghosts actually don’t want you to leave. They need you to play your part so they can be, well, ghosts. Without you, they are left to do the work. So, threaten to leave. That will get them to show up… for a short period of time, anyway. But be realistic. They are ghosts. It is only a matter of time until they disappear again.
- Call for an exorcism – Eventually, the day will come where you need to make up your mind. Either you leave the house and find another home (i.e. find another job) or you get the ghost removed. That’s when HR and your boss need to be brought into the mix. Just be prepared that they may not believe your ghostly tales. You may have to leave until they ultimately see it for themselves. Comforting or not, they will eventually see it and you’ll be proven right. It just may not be on your timeline.
What if Your Boss or Employee is a Ghost?
Now, what if the situation is different. What if you are dealing with a workplace ghost but it’s not your coworker?
- What if your boss is a ghost? If your boss is a ghost, follow steps 1-3. Unfortunately, exorcising a ghost that has been around a lot longer than you is hard to do. You’ll likely need to leave the house. Look for an internal transfer to another department and let your replacement deal with the hauntings.
- What if your employee is a ghost? If you have a ghostly employee, follow steps 1-2, skip step 3 (you aren’t going anywhere) and move to step 4 quickly. Force them to permanently materialize or they will be exorcized. Just know, exorcism will be the solution in over 90% of workplace hauntings. Getting ghosts to change their sheets is no easy task.
Workplace ghosts are tricky to deal with. However, if you can find where they live, get the right medium and layout your expectations, you’ve got a shot at a happy haunting. Start your ghost hunting today before things turn even more frightening.
My coworker is scary. If you’ve been a loyal follower of this blog (of course you have. Pat yourself on the back for being AWESOME!), you may recognize this topic. This marks the first time I’ve decided to resurrect a monthly theme (get it… resurrect… I kill me…). Last October, in the spirit of Halloween, we took on some nasty workplace beasties. From emotional vampires to workplace zombies, we fought the good fight against some of workplace’s most vicious inhabitants. When the dust settled and November rolled around, I realized that October is not the only month out of the year when our workplace looks like a scene from a horror flick. In fact, having “scary” coworkers is such a messy and pervasive problem, that I’ve come to realize that I’ve only scratched the surface on this topic. But I can’t do it alone.
I Need Your Help
Here’s what I’m asking. I’m going to kick start our month in this post by summarizing the workplace creepies I tackled this time last year. Then it’s up to you. What workplace monsters am I missing? Ghosts? Goblins? Ghouls? You get the point. No one knows workplace monsters and scary coworkers better than you. After all, they are probably in the cube, workspace or office right next door.
Here’s the current list of “captured” workplace monsters and scary coworkers. If for some reason, you haven’t gotten a chance to read these posts, check ‘em out. They are poignant, thought-provoking, entertaining and moving. You’ll laugh and cry, never to be the same again:
- The Office Zombies – Surviving their brain numbing existence is not for the faint of heart. This post made an appearance on The Today Show. #Famous.
- The Workplace Werewolf – One minute, a mild-mannered colleague. The next, he/she is leaping over the cubicle and attempting to rip your face off.
- The Emotional Vampire – Charming, they lure you into their presence and suck the life out of you until all that is left is an empty exhausted shell.
Join the Fight
Think you see something out of the ordinary or eerie at work? Got a workplace monster wreaking havoc at the office? Post a comment below. Comment on Twitter or LinkedIn. Shoot me a note directly (my e-mail is: Brandon[at]theworkplacetherapist.com). Write a note, stick a stamp on it and put it in the mail. Send smoke signals. One way or the other, get me your scary coworker example and I’ll take it on.
In the meantime, look sharp, eat lots of garlic, cover any exposed flesh, watch for full moons and don’t eat any apples lying about. Scary coworkers are not to be taken lightly.