How to Deal with Childish Adults

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Ideally, everyone would behave in a calm, rational, adult manner at work. But unfortunately, some people just never grow up completely. If you have to deal with immature bosses, coworkers, or employees, perhaps the suggestions below will help you keep your sanity. Here are some signs that you are dealing with a childish adult.

Throwing Temper Tantrums

Like two-year-olds, people who throw temper tantrums believe they are entitled to get their own way. They therefore feel free to abuse anyone who thwarts their desires. Unfortunately, this group often includes immature high-level executives who believe that having power gives them the right to treat others any way they like.

The Proper Response: The best response to a tantrum is no response at all. Stay quiet and calm until the tantrum thrower calms down enough to have a civilized conversation. If it goes on too long, politely excuse yourself and leave. Never show fear, anger, or any other emotional response, since that will be very rewarding to the tantrum thrower. When someone acts this childish, you must be the adult.


Some people enjoy telling tales and ratting out their colleagues. This can be blatantly childlike: “Mary came back late from lunch two times last week.” Or it may be disguised in more professional language: “Although Bob’s group made a good effort, we were never able to get their documents on schedule, so the whole project is late.”

The Proper Response: Tattling needs to be directly confronted. If the information is inaccurate, let the tattler know this and be sure to correct any erroneous impressions that others may have. If the information is accurate, but detrimental to you, ask the tattler to please share concerns with you before taking them to others. Sometimes one member of a work group tattles on everyone else, in which case, the whole group may need to confront the issue.

Not Sharing Their Toys

Collaborative colleagues are willing to share plans, goals, resources, ideas, and information. But some people are hoarders who obviously never learned to play well with others. They hog the equipment or fail to let others know about important developments. This may or may not be intentional, but either way it can create problems.

The Proper Response: Hoarding can be dealt with directly or indirectly. You might be able to ask for an agreement about how equipment will be used or when information will be shared. But since some people never change, there are times when the best approach is to keep reminding, requesting, and following up. Angrily confronting hoarders is almost always a mistake, since they may retaliate by becoming even less cooperative.

Craving Attention

Some people are attention junkies who want all eyes and ears focused on them. This behavior is actually rather pathetic, since it usually reflects a deep-seated lack of self-worth and self-confidence. But although it may be pathetic, it can be very annoying.

The Proper Response: The worst thing you can do is give an attention junkie more attention, since that just rewards their self-centered behavior. So when they begin to go on and on about their problems or accomplishments, you need to change the subject. Or politely excuse yourself. If you get hooked into these conversations, you may never escape. But don’t expect the person to become less self-absorbed. Attention junkies seldom change.

Sibling Rivalries

When unhealthy competition develops between coworkers, everybody suffers. Some people always have to prove that they are better, smarter, or more successful than others. Of course, anyone with a minimum of psychological insight will immediately conclude that these braggarts actually feel very inadequate.

The Proper Response: Never get trapped in a “my dog is bigger than your dog” conversation with a braggart. They will always find a way to top your best story, even if they have to stretch the truth. If it’s just harmless bragging, say “that’s nice” in a sincere manner and change the subject. But if you believe that the rival might actually take devious actions to get ahead of you, then watch your back.


Crybaby colleagues may not actually cry. But they are always whining or complaining about something. Nothing is ever quite right and they are never completely happy about anything. If you say that it’s a nice day, they’ll reply that it’s probably going to rain tomorrow. Crybabies invented the half-empty glass.

The Proper Response: You don’t want to reward crybaby behavior. So don’t join in with the complaining or start whining yourself. If you do, you’ll soon become the crybaby’s complaint buddy. Just change the subject and try to shift the focus from past problems to future goals. If the behavior persists, you may simply want to avoid these people.

Forming Cliques

In some work groups, a little group will decide that they are the “insiders” and refuse to admit anyone else to their exalted circle. They may eat lunch together or play golf together or talk exclusively to one another. But the point is that they’re special. They probably did the same thing when they were in middle school.

The Proper Response: These people are silly and childish, so find a more mature and rewarding group to interact with. Be friendly to clique members when you have to work with them and just ignore them the rest of the time.

Childish adults are annoying, but don’t get upset about them. Just be glad that you are a mature person yourself.