How to Gracefully Handle a Pushy Co-Worker

If you have a job that requires interaction with other people, chances are you’ve crossed paths with a pushy co-worker at some point. Sometimes it’s blatant, as in someone foisting extra work on you because they don’t feel like doing it themselves. In other cases, it might be subtler and harder to spot, as was the case for Ellen Mullarkey, VP of business development for Messina Group Staffing.

Early in her career, Mullarkey worked with someone who was always offloading extra work onto her. She didn’t realize at first what was happening—just that she was constantly swamped in work and struggling to keep up. Over time, she started to notice him taking credit for work she had completed.

"It was a strange situation because he acted very friendly toward me, so it was a subtle kind of pushiness that took me a while to figure out," she says. "In a way, it was actually very manipulative."

In other situations, we may feel "pushed" by a co-worker for different reasons, says Samantha Crowe with Evalia Consulting. For example, a co-worker may give unsolicited advice or feedback that isn’t appropriate for the relationship. And in some instances, we may feel pushed not by what they do, but how they do it.

As Crowe points out, we don’t control others’ actions, but we do control our response to them. "Often, when dealing with a pushy co-worker, we have to find new ways to respond to their actions by shifting our mindsets, feelings, thoughts or actions," she says.

If you find yourself in this type of predicament, you don’t have to accept the behavior, nor do you have to engage in a hostile exchange. Keep it positive—yet productive—with these smart strategies.

Stay calm and STOP.

Licensed professional clinical counselor Lisa Bahar suggests using the "STOP" skill. The "S" stands for stop—don’t react right away, as your emotions may trigger you to say something you shouldn’t or don’t actually want to say. The "T" stands for taking a step back, which can actually be a literal step back to signal your brain that you need distance from a reaction. Next, the "O" is for observing what is taking place within you: notice your body, take a deep breath, half smile and exhale. Then you may be ready to "P," which is to proceed with responding to your co-worker with a neutral statement, which could be, "I will have to think about that, thank you for asking, let me get back to you."

Respond in an assertive (but not aggressive) manner.

Be polite but firm, suggests Nina LaRosa, marketing director of HR online training company Moxie Media. "If you are already overwhelmed with your workload, it’s okay to say 'no' when someone asks you to take on another project or task," she notes. "Just being direct about your capacity and standing your ground can help curb someone else from bullying you into taking on their work. Appear confident and perhaps offer suggestions about how to solve the problem."

Ask questions.

Often, when someone is being pushy and forceful, they feel they are not being heard, notes Kira Nurieli, certified mediator and founder of Harmony Strategies Group. "When you ask questions, you indicate that you are genuinely interested in hearing what they have to say, which creates a more collaborative dynamic," she says. Nurieli suggests framing your questions with group pronouns like "our project" and "our team." For instance, you might ask, "How much priority should we be placing on this project?" Or "Is this the best angle, given our current workload?" 

Start with appreciation.

Nurieli warns that pushing back against a pushy person can increase the tension further and lead to full-blown hostility. Instead, she suggests trying to disarm them with a note of gratitude before directly pushing back. For example, you might say, "I appreciate you taking this project so seriously. Unfortunately, I’m pretty packed right now, and won’t be able to take on that extra work."

Don't take it personally.

It’s important to understand the motivations of demanding, pushy people and to not take things personally, notes Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed., LCSW. "Generally, pushy people are anxious and controlling because they feel a great deal of inner pressure," she explains. "Feeling that pressure to get things done, they are trying to get us to do something to reduce their anxiety, not to intentionally make our lives miserable."

Seek support.

If you have spoken with your co-worker politely yet firmly about the issue and the problem still persists, LaRosa suggests reaching out to your boss or HR rep for help. "Even if it feels uncomfortable to report someone, it is important that the workplace as a whole can be safe and comfortable for everyone," she says. When reporting the issue, LaRosa says it’s best to be direct and professional, and to bring any documentation you have gathered about your communication with the co-worker.
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Member Comments

Awesome...thanks! Report
Rude is as rude does Report
good ideas Report
I rarely encounter pushy people these days and the reason is that I don't allow them to move even an inch with me. These are the people who believe it's their right to expect you to put their problems ahead of yours; it's their right to expect you to have 48 hours in a hour and to solve their issues first.
Keep away from these people...eventual
ly others will do the same.... Report
thank you Report
Good ideas...thank you. Report
Great article! Report
Great article! Report
So glad I am no longer in these kinds of situations! Report
great info Report
Good article and input from Sparkers... Report
Users always use others. To be rude gets us no place with them. I agree with the suggestions. By my being polite, yet firm, I do not become their A) Door Mat B) Victim because I said "no"

Instead by being polite, yet firm, I KNOW they'll find someone else who will do what they want. Somehow sigh users always find someone else to use.

A friend was being used so badly. It took awhile for her to realize she was (users say "oh without you I'd NEVER be able to ,,,, ". Once she realized it and started to say "I can't" that person has stopped calling her in an "emergency" situation as it was always said to be. Ahhhhhhh my friend has peace again. That person had also "borrowed" money, but of course never paid it back. SO MUCH NICER without seeing my friend being used and abused. It was worth it to my friend to NOT be paid back and no longer have that person in her life. Report
why should they be "handled gracefully"? trash is trash and needs to be put in their place immediately and firmly. they are only co-workers - that means they are EQUAL to you, NOT above you and therefore have zero right to ask, tell, or otherwise attempt to get you to do anything that is outside of your stated job responsibilities. there is nothing wrong with reminding them of their place and telling them to do their own work and allow them to suffer the consequences of not doing so Report
Some great suggestions. Report


About The Author

Melissa Rudy
Melissa Rudy
A lifelong Cincinnatian, Melissa earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from University of Cincinnati before breaking into online writing in 2000. As a Digital Journalist for SparkPeople, she enjoys helping others meet their wellness goals by writing about all aspects of healthy living. An avid runner and group fitness addict, Melissa lives in Loveland with her guitarist husband and three feisty daughters.