How to Deal With Petty Coworkers

Petty behavior at work can be annoying at best and damaging at worst. Each of us, to some degree, is susceptible to petty behavior toward others. Pettiness often stems from anxiety over how we compare ourselves to others around us, according to a September 2005 “Psychology Today” article, "Why You Think You’ll Never Stack Up." By respecting all people and steering conversations toward the work at hand, you can influence co-workers around you to stay focused on progress and teamwork and to avoid pettiness.


Listen actively to understand your co-workers. Pay attention quietly when a co-worker is expressing himself to you. Avoid dismissing what he says before you decide whether he has a legitimate concern. Follow up by expressing your understanding of what he just said. Ask questions if necessary to reach complete understanding. Genuinely listening to a person, without necessarily agreeing with his view, can help that person feel more respected and included among peers.


Demonstrate respect for everyone. Pettiness aimed at people is unhealthy and unproductive. Pettiness that crosses the line into bullying, racism, sexual harassment or unruly pranks can be dangerous, even illegal. Besides not participating in such behavior, it’s essential to be a part of the solution by stopping or preventing these behaviors in the workplace. Express disapproval firmly, but respectfully, to a co-worker if something she says genuinely offends you. Aim at the offense, though, not the person. Avoid criticizing the person or offering unsolicited advice. Speak in terms of “I” rather than “you.” For example, you might say, “I think what you said is disrespectful,” instead of, “You’re being disrespectful.” Adhere to the law, and your company’s policies and procedures, when it comes to talking about people in the workplace. As leadership expert Stephen Covey suggests, be loyal to people even when they're not around.


Stay true to yourself and your company. Choose to never engage in gossip, nitpicking, trivial complaining or bashing people behind their backs. When co-workers frustrate you, remember that you're paid to focus on your job, serve others, represent your company and do your best. Compare yourself to yourself rather than to others around you. Improve yourself for the sake of your own growth, rather than to show off to others. Serve as an example of higher standards of respect in the workplace.