Blog: Dealing with an insecure colleague


Dealing with an insecure colleague

Working with people who are insecure can drain you off energy and excitement. However, anger feeds anger and so you need to keep your behaviour in check first
Dealing with an insecure colleague

You will at some point or the other work with an insecure colleague. Here are ways to tackle the situation better.

Abraham Maslow describes an insecure person –as someone who “perceives the world as a threatening jungle and most human beings as dangerous and selfish; feels a rejected and isolated person, anxious and hostile; is generally pessimistic and unhappy; shows signs of tension and conflict, tends to turn inward; is troubled by guilt-feelings, has one or another disturbance of self-esteem; tends to be neurotic; and is generally selfish and egocentric.”

Such people sap enthusiasm and create a toxic environment at your workplace.  But we have no choice but to learn to deal with such people. Here’s how to do that:

Stop talking about it – be positive

Working with people who are insecure can drain you off energy and excitement. However, anger feeds anger so you need to keep your behavior in check first. It is important to reduce your own stress levels - reading inspirational books and watching positive videos can help. Most importantly, it is crucial to try to insulate ourselves from all the negativity around us.

The value of sharing

It is important to demonstrate (and not just talk about) the value of sharing. Jack was an insecure x-colleague - obnoxious and grumpy. One of my associates decided to tackle this issue head-on. He invited him to an industry professionals meet, introduced him to some of his friends, and involved him in various fruitful and productive discussions during the meet. Soon enough, there was a visible change in Jack’s behavior, once he realized that he could gain a lot by sharing.  

Criticize in Private

Sanjay Singh, former director, HR and administration at Cairn India, in an Economic Times article ‘Handy tips for young leaders to take on organizational challenges’, explains how he dealt with a colleague 20 years his senior, who had rigid views. “I always respected him in front of other colleagues and dealt with his problems in private, which he later began to appreciate,” he says.

A learning experience

Working with insecure people may present a huge learning opportunity. Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy in the HBR article “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time” (October 2007) suggest an interesting and valuable way to look at people and situations – Look at upseting situations through new lenses. Adopt a “reverse lens” to ask, “What would the other person in this conflict say, and how might he be right?” Use a “long lens” to ask, “How will I likely view this situation in six months?” Employ a “wide lens” to ask, “How can I grow and learn from this situation?”

When I was working with a colleague six years my senior who was giving me a hard time, using the ‘reverse lens’ forced me to think from his perspective. I realized that he was frustrated as he had not grown within the organization as he had hoped for. He felt that there is a shortage of opportunities, and hence the only way he could increase his odds was by eliminating competition. This negativity affected his performance, leading to even more stress and desperation… and the chain continued. Eventually he was asked to leave. But this experience left a mark on me. I resolved to identify the signs of insecurity in myself and help others who show similar indications. In retrospect, it was a great learning experience.

There is no other option

Dr. David J Schwartz in his seminal book The Magic of Thinking Big mentions that leaders of all walks soon realize that they are leading older or more experienced people, who may themselves be upset that they have been passed over. Therefore learning to manage and work with insecure colleagues is essential.  

Disclaimer: This is a contributed post. The statements, opinions and data contained are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not of People Matters and the editor(s).


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Topics: Culture, Watercooler

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