You know that annoying co-worker who argues with everyone about everything and tends to pick fights over the littlest issues?
Companies are increasingly trying to weed petty employees out. Colleagues who are talented but argumentative in the office can often drag down morale and impede productivity, says Ilona Jerabek, who has a Ph.D. in psychiatric genetics and runs Canadian Internet psychology testing company PsychTests.com.
“They are more inclined to get into conflict, whether it’s with a direct report, their peers, or their superiors,” says Jerabek, citing a new study of the personality traits of about 33,000 people analyzed by PsychTests.com. “Their negative mindset and negative energy can get to people who are around them, which can be an emotional contagion in the workplace.”
Orange (formerly France Télécom) and the Ministry of Education in Trinidad and Tobago use PsychTests.com’s emotional intelligence testing as part of their employee and management development programs, she says. (To try a sample test yourself, click here.)
Jerabek recommends not engaging in arguments with difficult co-workers, who often cannot differentiate between a professional disagreement and a personal attack. Difficult co-workers should be handled with care and empathy, she says. The problem with chronically argumentative people runs deeper than a quick temper or bad day.
Researchers found a stark contrast in the emotional intelligence—often called EQ, or the ability to control your own emotions and monitor those of others—between argumentative people and colleagues who can go with the flow.
The analysis shows that argumentative people:
• have less impulse control;
• are less resilient;
• have more difficulty solving problems;
• are prone to low self-esteem;
• are less happy with their lives;
• tend to see the glass half empty instead of half full;
• are not self-motivators;
• become more easily frustrated when faced with obstacles;
• are less flexible in the face of change;
• have difficulty resolving conflict; and
• lack self-awareness.
Argumentative people aren’t just angry or frustrated; “they experience a lot of complicated, variable emotions and don’t know how to analyze and regulate them,” Jerabek says. They tend to be uncomfortable dealing with emotions in general and have exaggerated responses to minor issues. “It seems out of the blue or petty to others, but in reality, they are reacting to something very real that is bothering them. They just don’t realize what that really is.”