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WSJ: The Value of Annoying Co-Workers

Hmmm, as Pema Chodron would say – the upside of disruptive folks is that they force you to focus and stay calm…

WSJ: What about the obsessive, workaholic types—disrupters who live for order. They may be annoyingly rule-bound, but they set high standards, communicate well and make great operators, mentors and team members. As a 2011 study from the Rouen Business School in France reported, workaholism often can be constructive, inspiring co-workers to be more original and dedicated.

Take narcissists. Sure, they’re terrible listeners and apt to gobble up all the credit. But they also can be charming, engaging and charismatic. They can attract and inspire followers and be terrific mentors and leaders—which is why so many bosses are narcissists. In a 2006 study of more than 100 CEOs, researchers at Penn State found that executive narcissism can actually be motivational. The key to working for such a boss is learning to share praise, making your own contributions subtly known and ensuring that the narcissist doesn’t rule your work life.

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Another classic disrupter is the passive aggressive type—the office scorekeeper. Greg, a graphic designer at a magazine and a family friend, told me that he habitually did better layouts for editors who took a personal interest in him. He’d frequently hand in shabby pages for colleagues he spotted going out for drinks who hadn’t invited him along. “I did not ever want to be perceived as looking vulnerable or weak,” he said. “Why should I do for other people when they don’t do for me?”

Scorekeepers don’t play fair, which makes them tricky to get along with. But Pat Heim and Susan Murphy, authors of “In the Company of Women,” argue that scorekeeping can have an upside, if used to encourage cooperation and motivate co-workers—a sort of “do for others what they do for you” philosophy.

Then there is the office gossip. A 2012 study at the University of Amsterdam found that gossip makes up a whopping 90% of office conversation—but isn’t as detrimental as you might think. The researchers concluded that such behind-the-back chatter may be essential for group survival. They found that gossip can make offices run more smoothly and improve productivity, helping to keep underperforming workers in line while fostering camaraderie.

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