How to Deal with Crabby Coworkers | TechWell

How to Deal with Crabby Coworkers

Crab on the beach, photo by Felipe Portella

Abby, a programmer, probably came to resent her name when she discovered that behind her back, coworkers referred to her as Crabby Abby. You could hardly blame them; Abby wasn’t fun to be around. She was technically astute, but she also excelled at grousing and griping. She rarely smiled or laughed. Crankiness was her companion. I came to think of Crabby Abby as an apt name for anyone who displays this sort of persistent negativity.

Research suggests a strong correlation between negative emotions and many debilitating physical conditions, such as hypertension, digestive disorders, and cardiovascular disease. Crabby Abbys may be susceptible to these conditions, but don’t let people who behave this way drag you down with them.

One way to work with Crabby Abbys is to treat them with kindness despite their nagging negativity. Take a few calming breaths and aim to focus on the work-related matters at hand.

Challenging though it may be, refrain from thinking about all the ways a Crabby Abby is annoying you. Getting annoyed in return will do nothing to discontinue the person’s behavior. Let Crabby Abbys have their say and don’t interrupt; at some point they’ll run out of steam, and you can focus your attention on the relevant work issues.

Keep in mind that some people don’t realize they come across as crabby until someone tells them, so avoiding telling these people how they’re coming across ensures that their obstreperous behavior will continue. Two colleagues told me about situations in which they dared to point out a Crabby Abby’s difficult behavior, and both situations had unexpectedly positive results. In the first, my colleague said to the Crabby Abby, “You have such a great smile, but I rarely see it because you often seem angry.” It worked! Crabby Abby started to smile more often. I don’t know if her behavior lightened up with all her coworkers, but if you can get a grumpy person to stifle that behavior in interacting with you, that’s a start!

The second situation took guts. As the Crabby Abby vented, my colleague started to imitate her body positions, gestures, and voice. Crabby Abby stopped short and asked what was happening. My colleague said, “I’m just imitating you. That’s how you look and sound.” Again, the off-putting behavior came to a halt, and it hasn’t resumed.

Such transformations are by no means assured, but if you’re willing to try things like what these two colleagues tried, you too may be successful in transforming a Crabby Abby.

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