They are universal in the workplace — irritating co-workers. There's the guy with the honking laugh. The woman who slurps her coffee. Colleagues who gossip for hours, who...
They are universal in the workplace — irritating co-workers.
There’s the guy with the honking laugh. The woman who slurps her coffee. Colleagues who gossip for hours, who jangle loose change incessantly, who eat smelly food, who irritate, frustrate and exasperate.
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Those tendencies can make it hard to concentrate on the job, but they don’t have to spoil the atmosphere. Vexed employees have options.
“Many people allow others to influence their day,” said Roberta Cava, Australia-based author of “Dealing With Difficult People: How to Deal With Nasty Customers, Demanding Bosses and Annoying Co-Workers.” “They haven’t learned that they can’t control others’ behavior, but they can control how they react,” she said.
Neil Lewis, an Atlanta-based psychologist who advises corporate managers, summed up his recommendation: “Two words: Chill out.”
“I think you have to start with a healthy dose of self-examination,” he advised those who let others chafe them. “You need to ask yourself, ‘Why am I that way?’ “
Andrea Villarreal, 27, a business credit analyst in Houston, already knows why co-workers can irk her. She said she has no patience for silliness or slouching on the job.
“I actually have a high tolerance for people,” she said. “You have to do something really bad to get on my nerves.”
Villarreal’s top offender: a former colleague who would sing goofy songs, screeched when she laughed, talked nonstop about her dog, flushed the toilet several times before and after using it, and so on.
“I just looked at her and thought, ‘What a total freaking dingbat,’ ” Villarreal recalled.
The annoying co-worker has become a comedic staple in popular culture. Scott Adams’ comic strip “Dilbert” is full of them. Drew Carey continually battles his disturbing co-worker, Mimi, on ABC’s “The Drew Carey Show.”
Writer Mike Judge, the mind behind the MTV cartoon “Beavis and Butt-head,” sprinkled maddening employees throughout his 1999 film “Office Space.” The lead character bristles as a co-worker chirps, “Uh-oh. Looks like somebody’s got a case of the Mondays!”
There are Web sites that amount to support groups for annoyance sufferers, including www.iworkwithfools.com, which allow employees to anonymously spout off about colleagues.
“There are people who enjoy reading about other people’s pain in the workplace, which therefore makes their job seem not so bad,” said www.iworkwithfools.com‘s creator, a 30-year-old New York City technology freelancer who asked not to be named, to protect his ability to run the site. “Then there is the other side of the coin, where I have users who enjoy topping someone else’s story with their own dealings with someone who is worse.”
That kind of fellowship can help, said Mallary Tytel, president of Healthy Workplaces, a Bolton, Conn.-based consulting firm, as can venting to a friend or another co-worker.
Try something like, “Fred is just making me nuts. He chews his crackers six times before he swallows,” she said. “You two can have a chuckle about it, and then it’s over and done with.”
Whether to take more serious steps depends on the conduct.
“Someone who is too loud on the phone may interfere with your job, so perhaps action is warranted in that case,” said Dean McFarlin, a psychologist and management professor at the University of Dayton in Ohio.
McFarlin said when speaking to a co-worker, do not blame or criticize.
And, Tytel suggested, “Do it directly and privately. … You want to be positive.” Eye contact and body language matter. A scowl or crossed arms can set an adversarial tone.
Tytel said to focus on the behavior and how it affects job performance.
For example, if someone is playing the radio too loudly, “You can turn to them and say, ‘It’s a little hard to hear when I’m on the phone with a customer. Could you turn that down?’ “
Bruce Thompson, 42, a librarian in metropolitan Atlanta, confronted a co-worker who was making him “ulcerous.”
He said she was sweet and good at her job, but had “the maturity of a 15-year-old.”
“She left a trail of cups and personal stuff all over the workplace; she would walk off while I was still talking to her; she was puzzled at being asked to sign a get-well card for a colleague she didn’t personally know,” he said, adding that he didn’t appreciate her “nosy personal questions.”
He recalled this conversation:
“Bruce, are you thinking about getting a haircut?” she asked.
“No. … Why?” he replied.
“I just thought you might be thinking about it.”
“Why are you wondering if I’m thinking about getting a haircut?”
” ‘Cause I’m weird.”