Coping with Annoying Coworkers
Annoying coworkers are challenging, but it is possible to strategically manage them.
Work would be great if it wasn’t for coworkers, right? Ready or not, many of us are headed back into the office to see those coworkers we haven’t physically been working with for over a year. Colleagues can be a source of inspiration and fun, but sometimes they are the worst part of our jobs. You are not a victim of who you work with though—read on to learn how to strategically manage those coworkers who drive you nuts.
1. The Noisy Coworker
We all have that one coworker who has zero awareness of how loud she speaks or moves about the office (yawning or sighing loudly, drumming fingers on the desk, etc.). This person is probably loud wherever she is and has never learned to vary her volume and actions to suit the environment.
How to cope: Three words—noise-canceling headphones. Wearing headphones also signals that you don’t want to be interrupted by other annoying colleagues, such as the Gossip, the Complainer, the Flirt, and the Talker. If your coworker has a strong sense of self, you can also say straightforward but playful things like “Please use your inside voice so we don’t bother others.” You’re probably never going to change this coworker, but you can control the volume of your conversations if you’re willing to be upfront with her.
2. The Gossip
This coworker is energized by spreading news and juicy tidbits about coworkers and the company to others, whether true or not. He feels important and connected by being the one in the know, but it often masks insecurity of his own abilities or role in the organization.
How to cope: First, don’t tell this coworker anything you don’t want everybody to know. Second, don’t engage with him when he’s sharing information that isn’t job-related. If he starts gossiping, kindly tell him, “I’m sorry, that’s none of my business, and I have work to do.” Once he hears that from you a couple of times, he may stop sharing gossip with you because you don’t give him the attention he desires—problem solved.
3. The Smelly Coworker
You can often smell this coworker before you see her. Perhaps it’s her body odor or bad breath, or maybe it’s because she uses a strong perfume. This coworker may also be the one who causes the office to smell horrible because she burnt popcorn or cooked fish in the microwave.
How to cope: This is frankly a tough one to manage. Easy solution—tell your manager about it and how it’s affecting your ability to work. Your manager may or may not do anything about it, but you’ve at least delegated the problem to him. Difficult solution—tell her personally that there’s an odor problem. Will she feel mortified? Yes, but also grateful in only the way people who have something in their teeth feel when you tell them. There are people who just don’t care, however, and you are not likely to see any change in them. In that case, rub a couple of drops of essential oil under your nose before you need to interact with her.
4. The Whiner
This coworker’s glass is always half-empty and he has something bad to say about everything. He has a difficult time acknowledging improvements or progress in work projects and can say what is wrong with the weather on any given day.
How to cope: Let most of this person’s words pass through you and don’t react to them. Be careful that you don’t miss the important work complaints that you might not otherwise hear though. Sometimes he speaks for many others, but it’s easy to ignore him because he’s cried wolf too many times. Ask what he would do about the problem—he may have creative solutions since he’s probably been stewing about it for a while.
5. The Flirt
Some people rely on their flirtatious behavior to get what they want or simply enjoy seeing what kind of reaction they can get out of you. The Flirt can sometimes cause attachments that later affect other work relationships as well.
How to cope: If you are married and want to stay that way, don’t engage in flirty behaviors back. This is also good advice if you simply don’t want to be the object of someone’s flirtation. If you’re interested in pursuing something beyond coworker status, make sure she doesn’t flirt with everyone else. If she does, then you don’t know that she is actually interested in you so much as wanting to get a reaction out of you. Since people spend so much time at work, it’s natural that dating relationships start there. Check what your company’s policies are about this before proceeding too far.
6. The Talker
This coworker shouldn’t be confused with the Noisy Coworker, although she could be both. The Talker doesn’t know when to stop talking, either on the phone or with coworkers. She might not have enough work to do, because she always has time to converse.
How to cope: If this coworker comes over to your office, let her know you only have five minutes before you have to go somewhere (even if it’s only the restroom) or do something (even if it’s only calling your spouse about the TV schedule that night). Setting a time frame at the beginning of the conversation will remind her to give you the necessary work information right away and keep the chitchat to a minimum. Noise-canceling headphones also work to drown out the conversations she has on the phone or with coworkers.
7. The Busy Worker
The Busy Worker takes pride in being busy and makes sure everyone knows how over-scheduled he is. He appears to be hardworking but maybe all hat and no cattle—not a lot of work being accomplished behind his outward busyness. This may result in him never being willing to accept new projects or his work on projects might not get done because he’s so busy.
How to cope: Tune this coworker out when you can. When his “busyness” means you have to take on more, then be clear on what you can do and when it can be done. Watch that you don’t become the savior who always comes through—while it’s lovely for people to know they can count on you, it shouldn’t be done at the expense of your other work projects or your personal life.
8. The Slacker
This coworker cuts corners, ignores project expectations and tries to work as little as possible. Her work product may not be important so she can get away with doing less, or she simply doesn’t want to work hard.
How to cope: This frustrating coworker needs to be actively managed—give clear expectations of her work and remind her of deadlines. This can be done with a weekly check-in meeting about your joint projects. Whatever you do, don’t let her go off on her own, even if she resents check-in meetings. She has shown she can’t be trusted to independently complete quality work, so you need to be the adult here.
9. The Cruncher
Chips, carrots, crackers, and more, this co-worker loves to challenge the chompers with every crunchy food they can find. However, similar to the noisy worker, they have no awareness of how loud their crunching is like fingernails on a chalkboard to their nearby office neighbors. They are blissfully unaware and believe the crunching is only in their own head.
How to cope: Gently your neighbor that you can hear your crunching and it is problematic. Would they mind not eating crunchy food at their desk? Suggest switching out to softer foods, or bring in soft snacks to share and keep them in generous supply. You can always use the solution from the "Noisy Coworker" as well with noise-canceling headphones and music. If the worker refuses to comply, you can always ask to be seated elsewhere with a less crunchy neighbor.
10. The Know-It-All
He has strong opinions about everything, dominates meetings, and has a hard time accepting if his idea is not adopted. He may even subvert a new project if he was not in favor of it.
How to cope: Feed this person’s ego by asking for his opinion when you can, and publicly tell him how much you appreciate his knowledge. Keep him honest by reminding him that the entire group needs to agree on a solution and that everyone’s ideas need to be heard. If he resents that his solution wasn’t chosen, ignore his comments about it. If he actively subverts a new project he didn’t like, this is one for your manager.
Are you the annoying one at work? If so, read the related post: Are You an Annoying Coworker?
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