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How To Work With A Grumpy Coworker

Working with someone who just doesn’t seem to want to be there can be draining at best and can bring down the morale of the entire team at its worst. I never wanted to have an employee on the floor with, “negative energy,” contaminating the experience of the guests and the other staff members. It just doesn’t work well.

It’s not that people can’t have a bad day, or that they need to be happy all of the time. Bottling up emotions is almost as bad as constantly wearing them on your sleeve! It’s just that sometimes people have a hard time interacting and can gain a reputation for being an asshole all around (I would know, I had/have that reputation). Anyway, here are some ideas to warm up the company ice queen/king and keep the good times rolling.

Create Shared Experiences

Part of the charm of hospitality is that you develop a strong sense of community. Your sense of identity can easily be wrapped up into your work, your coworkers and the experiences you have with all of it. That’s why pages like The Angry Bartender or The Bitchy Waiter are so popular among industry workers. It’s an extension of the community that you have built up with the people you work with and the other crews around you.

You create that community to become part of the story of the company. “Do you remember that time Jimbo got his tooth knocked out?!” “Ugh, I had ‘Karen’ come in yesterday, you won’t believe what she b*tched about this time.” It’s these little inside stories that separate your particular work family from the one down the street. It lets everyone know who is in the group and who is not in the group.

If you can’t think of a notable experience with a particular coworker, they might be feeling alienated. Someone who is “outside” of the circle can feel closed off and resentful. Of course, that only feeds into their reputation that they are just grumpy, which alienates them more… Instead of allowing that to happen, try and find a way to bring them into the loop with an inside joke or story. Something that’s just between the two of you. That story could very well be all that’s missing for them to feel like they are part of the team.

Spread Compliments Through The Grapevine

We all know how much gossip can hurt. Nobody wants people to talk smack about them behind their backs. Some sensitive souls can even become paranoid that people are talking behind their backs, making fun of them, and laughing at their expense, regardless of any evidence. If you have a coworker who seems to lash out before you’ve even spoken to them, they might believe that you have been talking bad about them, even if you haven’t.

Ironically, you can use this to your advantage by actually following through on their worst fears. Obviously, I’m not talking about your tearing someone down when they aren’t around. Actually, what I’m talking about is complimenting them behind their back. If you try to compliment them to their face, you might very well arouse their suspicion that you are being insincere and that you actually feel the opposite of what you’re saying.

If they hear the exact same compliment from a third party, however, they will not doubt for a second that it is sincere. For example, YOU might not be able to say, “You know, you’re hair is always amazing. I wish that mine was like that,” but if you tell their friends and customers, “You know, I love so-and-so’s hair. Have you noticed how great it is? I wonder what products they use,” and that message reaches their ears, you will have lit up their world.

Very little is sweeter in this world than the knowledge that someone secretly admires you. We can’t help but feel that if someone has taken the time to notice a small part of our lives—and feels strongly enough to talk about it with others—that, that person really, genuinely likes us. You just can’t avoid feeling happier and drawn to the person who is talking about you.

Literally Send Good Vibes

You know what we don’t hear enough of? Genuinely nice things that other people talk about. It’s rare. So rare, in fact, that you should jump at the chance to tell people what others think of them. If a customer says, “Where is so-and-so today?” and follows it up with, “You know, half the reason I come here is because of their attitude. They always brighten up my day,” you should pass that message on.

This is the second half of sending compliments through the grapevine. It allows you the opportunity to share good news with the person. You not only let them know that someone was thinking of them when they weren’t around, but you also let them know that you care enough about them to tell them when something good was said!

Don’t Give Up On Them

A lot of people will say, “Just ignore them and do the best that you can. You don’t need that kind of energy in your life,” and leave it at that. Some cut-throat people would even say, “Get them fired. They shouldn’t be there if they can’t work with people.” However, if you use your Mirror Neurons and put yourself in the shoes of your grumpy coworker you’ll quickly understand how it feels to know that people are literally trying to get you fired for not being upbeat all of the time. That knowledge is surely going to make you want to be nicer, right? Not.

You don’t know what’s going on with them that they are acting coldly toward you. Hell, they might not even realize that they are coming off coldly. For my own part, the assumption that I hated everyone got so bad that I had to tell people I was interviewing, that if I brought them on, they needed to understand that I didn’t personally hate them. There would be no reason for me to hire somebody that I don’t like. I’m still not sure what it is that turns people off, but my staff decided that it was a bad case of RDF.

Whatever the reason, pushing them further away from the group, singling them out as a “bad egg” or otherwise treating them differently is a sure way to ensure that they don’t ever cheer up, or that they’ll eventually quit. You’re supposed to be a team. That means trusting that management decided to hire this person for a reason, which places some responsibility on you to make them part of the team, part of the history of the place. Whatever you do, just don’t give up on them too quickly.

I hope this helps and I wish you luck on your efforts to work with your grumpy coworker. Let me know if these tips helped, or if you think that these are off-base and check back often for more articles! (There are going to be a ton of them. Like…at least 50, so keep an eye out!)

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