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Dealing with a Disruptive Colleague (aka Turd in the Punch Bowl)

It’s good, right?

Your eyes are not deceiving you…I wrote “turd in the punch bowl” because that’s how we feel about disruptive colleagues.  These are folks we work with and can be coworkers, fellow board members, or neighbors 2 doors down.  They are not going away so YOU have to find ways to deal with them for your own sanity and success. The good news is that you can handle these disruptors directly without being a jerk or turning into a turd yourself.  The world needs less poo, not more!

Don’t Gossip or Vent

This is so tempting—it feels sooo good!  But that good feeling is fleeting.  “UGH!  Why is this so bad, Bridget?!”  Three Reasons:

  1. You get stuck. Venting to like-minded people keeps you in a bubble of ‘comfort’ so you can’t get over yourself and move on to a more productive mindset. It limits your possibilities and options; plus you waste energy whirling around in the bubble getting nowhere.
  2. It puts your good name at risk. What if you are overheard and word gets back to the disruptor and others?  Do you really want to invite more mess into your day and possibly tarnish your reputation in the eyes of great resources who may value this turd?
  3. Growth & Progress are difficult. Think about the dynamic created in a group or community that allows a lot of gossiping and mindless venting. Judgmental, critical, frustrated, unproductive are all words that come to mind.  These words are not growth-oriented—they are bogged down in, well, crap.

Take Charge

What if you were the go-to person that raised everyone higher? What gains might you experience?  What benefits would the greater group see?  You won’t know until you take charge and handle your reactions to the disruptive colleague.  Here are some actions to consider:

  1. Write down exactly why you find this person so off-putting. Nothing is too small or petty here.  The point is not to judge yourself or the turd but to simply acknowledge what’s rubbing you the wrong way. It’s OK not to like someone.  I’ll say that again—It is absolutely OK not to like someone.  You need this information to help you better understand yourself and what triggers your irritation. Tidbit: when you vent, the collective mindset against the turd holds you back from understanding yourself better because you’re too focused on someone else.  BOOM!
  2. Rewrite the story. You have made up a story about the turd—don’t deny it. You are human and this happens.  Create 2 alternative, dare I say, compassionate stories about this person.  Say the story is he takes over chamber meetings because he is a conceited, narcissistic jerk.  One alternative story could be he takes over chamber meetings because he doesn’t get a chance to shine much back at the store.  The idea is to expand your mind and release the grip on that old, tired story that isn’t serving you.  Side note: when you vent, it’s harder to let that sh*t go.
  3. Make a plan. These disruptors are not only infuriating, they make it harder for the community to accomplish goals and find solutions. It’s critical that you have ways to keep your reactions in check while you help the group work with the disrupting turd.  Secret: often the plans we make to help the group progress also help mitigate our reactions…AH-HAA!  Here are some ideas.
    1. Actively Listen & Repeat. Instead of getting all worked up and planning your retort, really listen, write key points, repeat them back to the disruptor, and then ask this golden question: “Have I understood you correctly?” 
      • People so badly want to be heard and understood. Think about the last time someone made the effort to really hear and understand you?  How did that feel?  You can give this gift to another person and quite often this will curb their disruptive behavior.
      • Bonus: this also gives your brain a job so it doesn’t have the time to overreact.
    2. Have a Parking Lot. If the disruptor is great at getting the group off topic, have a parking lot (big sheet of paper on the wall or white board) so you can quickly write side-track items down without getting derailed.  Include parking lot items in the meeting notes and maybe have an online poll/vote on them and their importance.
      • There’s magic in writing ideas/concerns very publicly. It lets everyone know that this is important to someone and the group will consider it at a more fitting time.
      • If the disruptor continues to go back to parking lot items, it’s easy for you and others to gently redirect.
      • Begin the meeting with an explanation of the parking lot as ‘a great way for us to keep track of ideas and concerns while we stay on topic’…make sure to explain how you’ll handle the items later. Getting buy-in and agreement from the majority is very helpful too.
    3. “And I love that.” Use this when you are speaking or even within your mind as a response to an idea or point of view.  I thought this was crazy until I began to use it.  Even when you don’t love the idea you can train yourself to find the lovable opportunity.


Disruptor: “I’m still worried about traffic flow if we allow parking on the side streets.”

You: “And I love that you brought this up—valid concern.  The city planning commission researched, and we can alleviate 70% of the congestion by reprogramming these two traffic lights.”

Yes, this is very positive-oriented. You may feel weird.  Give it a whirl and see how you do after a week.  This strategy will help you be the go-to person AND pause your immediate reaction—DOUBLE WIN!

Dealing with a disruptor means dealing with your reactions and triggers. A deeper understanding of yourself and a desire to have a different mindset will help you communicate more powerfully and effectively. Adopting new strategies will take you time so allow for this and reach out to resources for extra help.

Take Note!

If you don’t have a business or career mentor, consider finding one.  The SBA has great resources—many are free!  Staying stuck in the same patterns won’t lead you to success so it’s important that you find organizations, mentors, or consultants to help you.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback:Attention Bosses—Don’t let a Bad Apple Ruin the Bunch -

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