Co-Worker Conundrum: ‘How Do I Deal With Catty Co-Workers?’

Trouble in the office? The Grindstone is here to help. Write in with your workplace drama and we’ll try to help you sort through the office politics and keep moving up the corporate ladder.

I’m 23 and have two other female coworkers my age. It’s a very relaxed environment, and, since being hired about 9 months ago, I found that contributes to their lax attitudes toward their jobs, their constant smoke breaks, and their gossipy attitudes. 

I had been on friendly terms with both of them until recently, when I was recognized by my boss in a department email for being the only one to participate in a voluntary activity of creating a social media strategy. In it, he praised my work, but used the same email to send a strong message to everyone else that their lack of interest was extremely disappointing.

Now, I feel like I have a target on my back, and I noticed their actions to me have become cold, unfriendly, and borderline catty. They’re very close, which has created an uncomfortable environment since we all work in the same room. 

Essentially, how do I deal with catty coworkers, especially when my boss, unknowingly, pitted me against everyone else?

First of all, congratulations on doing a great job and earning the recognition of your boss. I think it’s important to mention from the very beginning that you should not feel embarrassed or guilty for going the extra mile and earning your boss’s appreciation.

So often in business, the “nice guys” shy away from competition because they don’t want to deal with this same problem that you’re facing. We want to make our workplace comfortable and our co-workers like us. So we maintain the status quo and try not to stand out too much.

Don’t ever let yourself fall into that trap! You worked hard and you deserved to be honored.

Now, all that being said, here are a few tips for dealing with the fallout.

  • Be quick with the compliments. A kind word can take you far. Your co-workers are obviously feeling threatened by your performance. The best way to win back goodwill with an insecure co-worker is to highlight their positive work as well. You don’t have to make a big production of complementing others, that can make it look like you feel superior. But a simple email after a presentation to say that they did a great job can go along way. Another quick way to stroke their ego? Ask for their advice on something. Anything.
  • Think about your boss’s motivations. I hate to admit it, but your boss knew exactly what they were doing when they sent out that email. No manager is clueless enough to think that they won’t create tension when they praise one employee and chastise others in the same message. So why would your boss want to create animosity? Well, he might be testing the waters to see how you deal with office drama. If he’s looking for someone to promote, he’ll want to see how you handle these situations. Or, it’s possible that he needs more from the entire department and he’s looking to foster a little inter-office competition.
  • Find time to address your co-workers separately. If you have a team of catty co-workers, you might want to apply the old adage, “Divide and conquer.” Together, these two probably feed off of each other’s energy. If you can address them separately and start some positive conversation, it will be a lot easier. Find common ground with them individually and you might be able to diffuse the tension in the office.
  • Don’t apologize for your accomplishments. Sorry, I have to say it again. You did a great job and you can’t let their jealousy bring you down. You don’t have to gloat, but you should keep being thoughtful and confident in your work. If you back down due to their pressure now, they’ll think that they can bully you whenever a little office competition comes up. Don’t start that trend. Be proud of your good work. Your boss will appreciate that you set a good example and your catty co-workers will just have to learn to respect you.

(Photo: Solgas/Shutterstock)

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    • Avodah

      I like the idea of being upfront. If you overhear something rude or happen upon a catty email try addressing it.

      I usually like “I couldn’t help but overhear you discussing the project we worked on together. It sounds like a dropped the ball somewhere. What may I do better next time?”

      Or, “Perhaps I am mistaken, but the tone of your email made it seem like you were frustrated. Have I done something wrong?”

      Usually, if you confront people face-to-face, firmly and politely they will knock it off.

      If it gets really bad- don’t be afraid to show a supervisor. However, you must wait until the behavior gets heinous or unprofessional. Otherwise, you risk looking like a flake.

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    • Scott Wiseman

      You have to be upfront, clear and take immediate action when the event occurs. I have given workshops, and have advised that a face to face quickly is your first course of action, then go to a supervisor after 24 hours if it continues.

      Scott Wiseman

    • Scott Wiseman

      You have to be upfront, clear and take immediate action when the event occurs. I have given workshops, and have advised that a face to face quickly is your first course of action, then go to a supervisor after 24 hours if it continues.

      Scott Wiseman