How to deal with that one colleague

Context:

You just got a new job. Maybe it’s your first job, maybe you changed jobs. Whatever the case is you are now here. Brand new office, brand new colleagues, everything’s going to be awesome. Well, not quite. Something will go horribly wrong, you just don’t know it yet. Imagine as if in your first few days at you job the (1975) “Jaws” movie song is playing in the background but you can’t hear it.

That one colleague is too long to repeat for this whole article. Therefore, I shall refer to that one colleague as Dakota from now on. So, a couple of weeks have passed since you started here. You know your team by name, your training (if you had any) is over by now and you are starting to be productive on your own without need somebody to babysit you. At one point you don’t understand a piece of code that was written by Dakota. You try to figure it on your own, but you fail. So, you ask them to help you: 

“Hey Dakota, do you have a minute to help me with what you wrote here?”

See, that was your first mistake. You dared to ask Dakota for something more than the minimum requirement of their job. It’s an honest mistake, you will learn to know better. Because Dakota was friendly with you so far, you thought it was no big deal to ask for their help. At first, they will say something like: 

“Sure, no problem, I’ll come over in 5 minutes.”

So, you wait 5, 10, 15 minutes while nothing happens. Because you feel like you are wasting the company’s time you politely ask again if they can help. Dakota sighs, does not look at you, acts like you just interrupted them from doing something important (though they were probably scrolling through Facebook) and slowly comes over to your desk to see what the big deal is all about. You show them what the issue is and ask for clarification about the work they did. Dakota looks at the screen for 3 seconds, tells you that the code probably has something to do with customer accounts and goes back to their desk.

At this point you’re dumbfounded. Did they just do the minimum required of them to classify as “help” without actually helping at all? If you thought that, you are right. Now that I think of it, there is a beauty in Dakota’s madness. Dakota didn’t want to help you at all. They hoped you will give up if they did not show up after 5 minutes. But you insisted. Because of that, you forced them to take some kind of action. If they didn’t do anything you could tell your manager that Dakota refuses to help you and that would require too much effort to deal with from their part. Therefore, they came over (reluctantly) to your desk provided minimum information and went back to their routine of wasting time. Brilliant! This whole charade had more to do with Dakota covering their ass than helping you. 

That was your first strike, you are now on Dakota’s radar as a colleague who actually wants to get stuff done (bad). Even more so, you dared to ask “work” out of them as well (even worse). Another (kinder) colleague will see that you are still stuck and will come over to actually help you understand the code and move on. At first, you’re not sure what to make of it. You show Dakota the benefit of the doubt, maybe they had a bad day, who knows. Maybe they were working on something important. Some more days pass and you start to see that you are not the only one who Dakota “helps’ without actually helping. Dakota will try very hard to not do any actual work. In order to help you identify if a colleague is indeed a Dakota here are the stages of their work

  1. Avoidance
  2. Postponement 
  3. Mimicking work
  4. Lying about any of the above  

What can you do?

Several months have passed. You are a full member of the team now. Maybe you even earned the respect of some colleagues through your hard work. Good job! But… there is one issue. Every time you interact with Dakota you build up a little bit of resentment. You clearly see by now that this person does not care about you, the company, the clients or anybody else outside of themselves.
You wonder why your boss has not fired Dakota yet because they’re mostly not working on anything. The reasons as to why Dakota was not fired yet are as follow: 

  • Some work gets done (badly) 
  • The paperwork would be a hassle 
  • Dakota isn’t paid much (hence little expectations) 

1. Paper trail

 In order to get any help, or work out of Dakota you have to threaten (politely) with getting them into trouble. Now that I think of it, if you succeed at this task you should consider a career in diplomacy. You do this by having a trail of evidence for every work related interaction you have with Dakota. Instead of verbally telling Dakota the deadline of a task. Write an email telling them the same stuff in writing. When the deadline approaches and Dakota tries to weasel their way out trouble by saying that you did not inform them provide the evidence. Instead of a he said she said situation you will have an ace in your hand. Of course that this won’t matter to the boss or client. But at least you’ll make sure that Dakota is held responsible for their devious ways. 

2. Be competent

If you’re like me. You want to do your job properly. You want to get paid for honest work, not passed time. This is a great tool for dealing with Dakota. If you’re good at your job, others will notice.  The side effect is a good reputation. Once you have a good reputation in your team as being a capable hard working employee you can leverage that in disputes with Dakota. If it ever boils down to you said – Dakota said situation you can use your reputation to your advantage.

3. Don’t let them get to you 

If it ever gets really bad I suggest you physically remove yourself from being in their vicinity. Take a couple of days remote if you can, try to get assigned to a different project where Dakota is not involved, basically try to avoid them. I know that you consider yourself as a civilized person but if they didn’t manage to piss you off royally I don’t consider them to be a “real” Dakota. There could be many small scenarios where Dakota will try to annoy you at work intentionally or unintentionally. Dakota has a lot of free time on their hands, 35 hours a week to be more precise.  

Scrolling through social media and looking at YouTube videos gets boring after some time. As a result, Dakota will try to chit-chat with anybody. It doesn’t matter if that person is busy, working or simply does not want to talk to Dakota. Dakota finds a way. They will start with a simple sentence addressed to the room like “X framework is not as good as people say”. That is a bait, don’t take it! Dakota will then wait to see if somebody agrees or disagrees with this statement. The first person to answer will get sucked in a 45 minutes pointless conversation. The poor victim starts with the premise of actually discussing the advantages and disadvantages of said framework. While the premise of Dakota is to waste as much time as possible as they are too bored to do any actual work. Whether Dakota is trying to bait you in pointless arguments or actively trying to piss you off, try to remain calm. Don’t enable Dakota. Try to do your job while doing your best at ignoring Dakota.

Conclusion

“Dakota is a force of nature.”

Bota Petre

There are many types of colleagues. Some are kind, some are angry, some are helpful and then there is Dakota. Dakota is not necessarily an evil person it’s more like a force of nature. Trying to tell Dakota to stop bothering you and get back to work is like trying to tell the rain to stop. You cannot reason with Dakota. Like the rain, you can either try to find shelter from Dakota or pray that Dakota goes away. If I have to compare Dakota to an actual person I would say that the closest would be a 10 year old little brother: 

  • Avoids all responsibility 
  • Annoys the shit out of you 
  • Will kick you if you’re parents are not watching 
  • Will start crying when confronted 

I hope that the lessons I learned from dealing with “that one colleague” will help you. If at any point you ask yourself if you are a bad person for hating Dakota I am here to answer. You are not a bad person. You are simply doing your best to cope against extreme adversity.

Have you ever met a Dakota? Share your story in the comments.

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