Scary Work Scenario: And I Have to Spend All Day with These People?
Pity Parties and Self-Promoters
Pity Parties are those un-teammates who have an excuse for every act of inaction. Their computer melted down. Their elderly aunt came to visit or, like Mike, their father is sick. The most expert Pity Parties concoct long-running sympathy stories: bad backs, bad marriages, bad childcare, and so on. I don't want to sound harsh. Sometimes people really do need time off or special accommodations, but Pity Parties make an art form of wriggling out of responsibility, and you're left wondering if you're a heel for resenting them—or a dupe for helping them.
Your best strategy is to steer clear of Pity Parties and their appeals for help. You'll need to steel yourself to say no as often as humanly possible, even if they promise you, "This is the very last time." The line I ended up using with Mike was "I'm in a bind too. Did you ask Rory for help?" (Rory was our boss.) That response did not put an immediate end to Mike's ways; he went looking for other enablers. Still, it sent the signal—both to Mike and my co-workers—that I would not cut side deals. When enough of us started saying no, he left us alone.
The final form of dysfunctional coworker is the Self-Promoter, like "Look at Me" Margaret, who saw every team assignment as an opportunity for personal advancement. In their pursuit of fame and glory, Self-Promoters occasionally sabotage peers. I once had a co-worker who used staff meetings, with the boss in attendance, to vociferously attack every other writer's work as "hackneyed" or, her favorite word, "superficial." If we pushed back against her critiques, she accused us of being competitive with her. There was no way to win.
Usually, that's the case with Self-Promoters. They can drub you with their narcissistic "logic"—they're right; you're just defensive—and wear you down with their egocentric career campaign. But they can't smite everyone forever. After a few promotions, the moment comes for every Self-Promoter when they need a favor or help, and there is no one left to ask. So keep your head down and wait. And most important, keep overdelivering, even if your local weasel tries to steal all the credit. Self-Promoters might get more praise than they deserve, but in any good organization, real team players ultimately get what they deserve: respect and admiration.
If you have any doubt about that, you might ask Margaret. I stopped working with her years ago, but I recently heard that the company asked her to move on—just when she thought she had achieved the position of vice president, the goal she'd been gunning for. Colleagues tell me she interviewed for jobs for a year afterward, but with less than enthusiastic references, she couldn't land one. She ended up going out on her own as a consultant, and I just learned she's a tireless and admired mentor for young women in a leadership program in Boston. I don't know what she tells them, but I can venture a guess: Do everything you can at work to be a great team player, and learn to survive (and thrive) around those who are not.