The Coworker Next-Door (Or in the Next Cube)


One of my mother’s favorite sayings is, “it takes all kinds to make the world to go round.” No two people are alike, a fact we all know, but are usually more accepting of in our personal lives, rather than our professional lives. But if you keep this lesson in mind at work and learn the best ways to communicate with different personalities, you will greatly improve your interpersonal and teamwork skills, which are fundamental to the success of your federal career.

Fault FindersIf you have ever been in the middle of a presentation and cringed as you heard a familiar voice say: “It doesn’t sound like you’ve considered “X” have you?” then you have experienced the fault finder. Their issues are not personal: they are equal opportunity.

Solution: Your instinct will be to immediately fight fire with fire. Instead, take a deep breath make a mental note of the question or comment, thank the person for their feedback and state that you will address their input offline. Later, come back to the comment and consider if there were any valid points. This will prepare you for your follow-on conversation.

FrenemiesThere will always be people who will smile in your face and stab you in the back: and if you’re having flashbacks of being in high school, then you’re on the right track. There are infinite numbers of reasons why someone doesn’t want to work with your, or wants to make your work life harder than necessary; and the bottom line is that the “why” doesn’t matter.

Solution: Stay above the fray. Take deep breaths, short walks, talk to your office therapist (more on that later), but do not engage or escalate the situation. Remain professional, helpful, and above all smile. In time, the person who has singled you out will move on to someone else because they can’t get under your skin.

The Keep Me Out of ItsThese folks just want to be left alone to do their jobs. These are the quiet, determined, dependable worker bees: the people who come in every day and get the job done, regardless of changes, distractions, or uncertainty. They don’t get involved in personality conflicts and have no discernable opinions about changes to their projects or workloads. The mistake many make is to try to turn the “keep me out of its” into people they are not and don’t want to be.

Solution: Every office needs go-to people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and do what needs to get done. Embrace both their focus and their work ethic, but don’t take them for granted. Be mindful that just because they don’t often express their opinions, doesn’t mean they don’t have any.

Know-it-allsSome people are convinced they know everything about a topic (or maybe everything about everything) and no one will convince them otherwise. You will be tempted to argue, don’t: it will only end in (your) frustration.

Solution: The best recourse is to not argue: hear them out, review their important points, add your input, and then move the conversation on to the next topic.

TherapistsDo you know the person in your office that everyone goes to when there is uncertainty, confusing directives, or large reorganization initiatives? Then you know the office therapist. Though they are sometimes interpreted as office gossips (because everyone talks to them), they are actually great listeners who have the pulse on how people feel, which is equally as important as what they think.

Solution: If you want to know the temperature of your organization, get to know the therapist. Be open to their understanding of the team, but don’t ask them to compromise the trust they have developed with their colleagues.

Sunnyside uppersThese people always see the glass as half full: no idea is too big, too risky, or too unrealistic. And every office needs one, maybe two. They are the team cheerleaders, the people capable of finding ways of turning obstacles into triumphs.

Solution: The sunnyside uppers are a great source of positive energy and reinforcement. Ensure they are heard and embraced, especially in environments where the majority are skeptical.

Worry wartsThere are some people who worry about everything, all the time, in every aspect of their life. In their work lives, they are convinced that if every piece of paper isn’t triple checked, something disastrous will happen.

Solution: Let the worry warts express their worries and prioritize them in order of importance to the project. You may not find all their worries of concern to you, but one, two, (and maybe more) could be valid and will ultimately be valuable to your project.

Learning how to work with the myriad of work personalities will benefit you, your coworkers, your team and ultimately, the work you are all working to achieve.

Kim Martin-Haynes is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Great article! I know (and may even be one) of these people on your list. Some are harder to “adapt” to than others but I appreciate the solutions your provide. Thanks!


I’m mentally burnt out trying to deal with all these personalities everyday. I’ve decided to just come to work, don’t socialize, do my job, and go home. Mentally burnt out!!!


I have a job that drains me everyday, go home stressed and tired, and is affecting my health. I’ve tried working with all these personalities, but they are not willing to work with mine. I come to work and go home, but its a struggle.

Lisa DeHart

I think sometimes this is a good strategy– it doesn’t have to be forever but regrouping- stepping back for a breather is good for me sometimes. Especially if the agency is experiencing a high turn over rate for some reason. It gets draining getting to know new people and then next thing you know they are gone .


This article is so on target for me. I see myself and some of my co-workers all woven into the fabric of this reading. I plan to share this post at one of our staff meetings to generate conversation and explore where each person may see their own personality in hopes of improving communication and boosting morale within our group. Thanks for a great article !!!!

Lisa DeHart

This is so spot on! Better to embrace our differences and work together. Good reminders! After 10 years in my position its helpful to be mindful how different we all are and how to work together around each others quirks and not take things personally. Thanks- I shared with my co-workers too via the e-mail link 🙂 .