And what makes a good colleague

Your colleagues can play a big part on how much you enjoy your job. From collaborating on group projects to post-work drinks, getting on with the people you work with can make a hell of a lot of difference.

But what makes an ideal colleague and which type of colleagues are toxic to you and your productivity?

The Independent spoke to Dr Barry Cripps, a chartered psychologist who specialises in performance psychology, about the type of person who is good to have around the office. Dr Cripps devised a psychometric personality questionnaire to measure mental toughness, dependability and team-based traits from a questionnaire. 

The questionnaire (ECCOS online) produces occupational scales of personality and four apply to how reliable and good a person is at work. 

The first scale measures whether someone is tender-minded or tough-minded. In the workplace, Dr Cripps says temper-minded is what you want as they tend to be good team workers and like other people. The second scale is whether someone is an introvert or extrovert: this doesn’t really matter Dr Cripps says as either set of personality traits can make a good co-worker. The third scale is to do with someone is an anxious or stable co-worker: a stable co-worker makes for the best colleague as they tend to be more amenable to change. The final scale ranks empathy, this is important as a co-worker should be able to stand in their colleague’s shoes and see where other people are coming from.

Essentially, a good co-worker should be temper minded, stable and empathetic; a bad colleague is the opposite.

Millie*, 25, a deputy store manager says a former colleague(her store manager) made her job so difficult she would feel physically sick on her way to work.

“She always assumed as deputy store manager, I would pick everything up straight away and that I should have the perfect intuition to know exactly what to do and how to do it,” Millie told The Independent. “She would take a phone call from our area manager and make a big show about going to into the staff room where she would obviously be talking about me.

“When our area manager [her senior] suggested I go for a promotion, my store manager kept saying she wouldn’t put me forward. Every time I would do something she didn’t assume I would do, she would relay it back to this area manager – keeping a list of reasons why I shouldn’t get her job. She would also make a show of telling me I’d done something wrong in front of staff, undermining decisions I had made when I tried to step up.”

Millie says although it was just in her work life where she was struggling to cope, it extended into how she felt at home too.

“I would dread coming to work if I knew I was working with her, the drive to work actually made me feel sick. Even after I quit the job, if I was driving in the direction of my workplace it would give me a tummy ache.”

Millie says she didn’t complain to the area manager as she knew it would be her word against her store manager’s, but now after hearing how she treats Millie’s replacement (exactly the same) she wishes she had.

“I don’t really know how I coped with it, I just kept trying to prove her wrong and be better than she expected.”

 

Dr John Nicholson, a psychologist at Nicholson McBride, says a toxic colleague can often come out of the fact that two things are often in conflict in the workplace. 

“We are genetically programmed to be sociable… but equally there is the ‘survival of the fittest’ aspect and the competitive urge is part of our human nature and those two things are obviously in conflict.

Previously, Dr Cripps has advised colleagues to draw up a personal contract with a colleague in order to improve working relations. He has each party to list three things they like and do not like about each other, the pair then sign and come to an agreement on how they can work out their differences and produce a more harmonious workplace relationship.

“It gets to the root of the problem very quickly,” Dr Cripps says. “If you have to work with someone for a long period of time, it ought to be possible to sort out each other’s management style.”

Dr Nicholson says there is a difference between mischievous and malice when it comes to a difficult colleague.

“Malice is when people actually try and wear you down and in extreme cases destroy you. Even if their main interest is putting themselves forward, if they do so by standing on your shoulders you deal with them as you deal with any other form of bullying: you want to be showing signs of strength instead of any signs of weakness.”

So when is too much too much and you should escalate it to higher managers or HR?

Dr Nicholson says it is not always ideal to go higher up as a first option, because it can encourage them to pick on you again. The government’s website suggest that if you are being bullied or harassed at work and cannot sort the problem informally first, they should escalate it to a manger, HR or a trade union representative. If this doesn’t work, employees can make formal complaints using their employer’s grievance procedure.  

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