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Dealing with annoying co-workers


Pamela Eyring

You can't choose your co-workers.

You can't choose your co-workers.

The Know-it-All. Negative Nancy. Larry Loud-Talker. The Over-Sharer. The workplace is filled with all kinds of personalities, each with their own unique (and sometimes annoying) habits.

While you can't choose your co-workers you can choose how you handle their annoying behaviour. Your best approach will largely depend upon your circumstances, and the level of annoyance.

For example, if your co-worker's habit hampers your ability to do your job you'll need to take care of the problem, even if it means going to your supervisor. However, filing even a 'verbal' complaint should always be your last-resort. Meanwhile, you may want to look at your own workplace behaviour which, unknowingly, may be offensive to others.

Tips for Resolving Conflict

Remove yourself from the situation: If you find yourself focusing more on your co-worker's annoyance than the work in front of you, take a break. Even a few minutes in a restroom or break room will clear your head and calm your nerves.

Find an outlet for your frustration: A 20-minute power walk or "vent-session" with a trusted friend is another option. Once you've released the built-up tension you'll find you have a new perspective on the situation.

Find your focus: If deadlines prevent you from removing yourself from the situation, create a place of calm in your own mind. Any technique that helps you create a "clear headspace" will provide a sense of control and calm. Try noise-canceling ear-buds or mentally repeat a mantra, like "focus" in your mind.

Go to the Source: If all your attempts fail and your work is still suffering, be respectful and pay your co-worker the courtesy of addressing them directly. Explain the problem (e.g., it's hard for me to concentrate) and, together, find a solution that works for the both of you.

Last resort: If the problem persists you have no choice but to bring your concern to a supervisor. Who knows, you may not be the only one in the office having a problem with this co-worker.

Taboo Workplace Topics

Even the most friendly workplace conversation can sour when people discuss 'taboo topics.' To avoid office friction, don't brooch the following 'hot topics;' and if raised by co-workers opt-out of the conversation.

Salary: Your salary was determined by you and your employer. It's proprietary information and should stay that way.

Medical Woes: Only you and your family care about your medical problems. Keep your aches and pains to yourself.

Relationship Problems: Failed romances and other relationship issues belong in your personal life, not in your professional life.

Sex, Religion Politics: These 'big three' hot button topics are non-negotiable. They are called hot button topics because they are polarising and run the risk of alienating, even insulting, colleagues. Discussing sex, religion and politics is always off-limits and inappropriate in the workplace.

Examine Your Own Behaviour

As you go about your workday pay attention to your interactions with others. Do you interrupt colleagues while they're working or engaged in conversation with others? Do you discuss business matters with co-workers or do you bring up personal issues, about yourself and others? Do you complain about problems in the workplace but fail to offer any viable solutions?

Remember, it's always easier to find fault with others than it is to see our own problems.

Pamela Eyring is the president and director of The Protocol School of Washington (PSOW) which provides professional business etiquette, image, and international protocol training.


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  • Whispering. I can't stand it. If they can't say it in front of others then don't say it, or go somewhere else and say it.
    Shocking habit.

    Date and time
    May 09, 2012, 4:03PM
    • People with personality disorders are everywhere and not being diagnosed with/recognised for their psychopathology. Ask yourself not, 'Is this abnormal behavior?', but rather 'Is this normal behavior?', and if the answer to the latter question is "No" - you have good reason to suspect someone who is NQR, and most likely with a personality disorder.

      Wiser Now
      Date and time
      May 09, 2012, 4:04PM
      • There's a lot of tragedy out there...

        Gordon Akman
        Date and time
        May 09, 2012, 4:06PM
        • Whispering! I'd love to sit near a whisperer...

          Some people just move in behind me that are loud-talkers...there's also one that leaves her phone on her desk when she leaves her desk and even when she's there she just lets it ring!

          Date and time
          May 09, 2012, 4:14PM
          • I think i've engaged in all of the off-limits behaviours, plus a few more.......Sorry :(

            Date and time
            May 09, 2012, 4:37PM
            • Whingers. Can't stand them. People who sigh and carry on about the smallest things. I am all for the occasional rant when someone does something to really p*ss you off, but if it's a day-to-day task that's a core function of your role, button up or get a new job.

              Same goes for the loud-talkers, the fun-busters (the ones who think an office should have the noise level of a church or library) and the 'ghosters' (the people who creep up behind you and then just hang out standing 3 inches from your chair for ten minutes till you notice them). Oh, and the incompetent ones are the worst, but it's much harder to get rid of someone who's too silly to work out that they're out of their depth (it takes them longer to catch onto it).

              Annoyed, or annoying? Depends on the day
              Date and time
              May 09, 2012, 5:24PM
              • Actually I think sex, religion and politics are about the safest topics in my workplace.
                this is interesting stuff and it's a tough gig to stifle talk when the stress factors go viral. useful advice. we could all take it more.
                the directives look a bit straight jacket like but are probably good advice.

                Date and time
                May 09, 2012, 9:15PM
                • yep - have a negative colleague planning an overseas holiday - already complaining about how this is closed and that is not open, and this is under renovation - it's just terrible !

                  or dare I say, the continuous choice of the negative view seems to somehow bolster their own feeling - that they are perhaps better than that ... I've read one benefit for negative people is it helps them feel better about staying in e.g. unhappy relationships - if they can somehow blame the other for everything, then they can feel better (about staying) - make sense ? OK.

                  Date and time
                  May 09, 2012, 11:30PM
                  • Most of "annoying behaviours" stem from the worst workplace "innovation" of all-time: the open office layout. While for some the change encouraged collaboration, while for most it lowered productivity by inhibiting concentration, reducing functional space, depersonalising the workspace and raising the stress level. Bring back at least the two-metre sound-insulated cubicles if not private offices with doors, and watch all of the above annoyances become immaterial.

                    St Leonards
                    Date and time
                    May 10, 2012, 3:33AM
                    • Note to all: be a robot. Nobody likes personality.

                      No Name
                      Date and time
                      May 10, 2012, 8:33AM

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