By Caroline Potter
Coworkers are the people who can make a so-so job spectacular. The great ones offer up a helping hand, a sympathetic ear and a strong opinion about last night's American Idol. But there are some folks wandering the same halls who could harm your career rather than help it -- just by getting in the way every day.
Below are three types of coworkers you should try to sidestep during the workday.
The Chronic Complainer
You'll hear the Chronic Complainer (C.C.) before you actually see her. She's the one making a mountain out of a molehill, throwing a major fit over a minor infraction or stirring the pot in general. You'll also catch her complaining about -- gasp! -- being asked to do her job. If you've had to work with her on even the most pleasant project, you probably found yourself counting the days until it was complete, as she pointed out every problem with the project and shortcoming of the company.
Employees like this help create a toxic work environment and make those of us who like our jobs feel silly for it. Even if your job is far from perfect, you should always look on the bright side of things -- while looking for another job.
The best way to handle C.C. is total avoidance. If that's not possible, do not indulge her grousing. Doing so will only fuel the fire. Remain as silent or as neutral as possible and see your supervisor about working independently or alongside others in the future.
The Shoulder Rubber
You would think that sexual-harassment awareness training would have rendered the Shoulder Rubber (S.R.) extinct, but he's apparently a hardy creature who thinks he's being supportive.
S.R. will find you if you're down and out, or if you're at the top of your game. If you're looking particularly dejected, watch out. S.R. will try to comfort you with an unsolicited and uncomfortable back rub.
Despite vigilance on the part of human resources departments to deter this behavior in the workplace, S.R. may not know he's violating your personal space. If it's merely annoying, try to avoid sitting anywhere near him during meetings. Don't brush by him in the hallway. Do not linger at his favorite water cooler. If S.R. catches you off-guard and goes in for a massage, you can say something like, "Please stop. I have dry skin (or another condition) and that's just making it worse."
Remember, if you feel uncomfortable, harassed or threatened, see your supervisor and your human resources representative. That should put an end to S.R.'s career as an amateur masseur.
Between attending meetings, returning emails, responding to phone messages and instant-messaging with key associates, the amount of time professionals have to generate work is shrinking. To really knuckle down, some folks have to come in early or stay late.
So, the last thing you need is the Chatterbox eating up your time with endless chitchat. Whether it's at your office door, the spare chair in your cube or at the shared printer, the Chatterbox will engage you in inane, meandering conversations that serve no purpose other than to avoid work.
Stop letting this coworker suck up your precious time. If you can't totally avoid the offender, say, "I'm sorry I have to keep our talks brief, but it just takes me a bit more time to get through my work and I really want to do a good job." The Chatterbox will get the message.