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Your Own Behavior is the Best Antidote to Annoying Coworkers

Published on February 20, 2016 12:00 AM EST
Your Own Behavior is the Best Antidote to Annoying Coworkers

Depending on the situation, speaking your mind and holding your tongue both have their merits. But when it comes to dealing with annoying coworkers, discretion is the better part of valor.

Regardless of where you work, you’ll get along better with some coworkers than others. You may enjoy the company of some colleagues so much that you start spending time together outside the workplace.On the flip side, some coworkers may grate on your nerves so badly that you just want to yell.

Your Own Behavior is the Best Antidote to Annoying Coworkers

But it doesn’t have to come to that. By remembering these five tips, you can stay calm and collected even when James is talking in that loud, fingernails-on-the-chalkboard way of his about how much he hates getting stuck in traffic (who doesn’t?) or Jane forgets (yet again) to brighter notes to the meeting,causing it to be delayed at the beginning and hurried at the end.

1. Remember the context.

Life in any workplace comes with people who exhibit a wide variety of personality traits and work styles. But you and your coworkers — even the most difficult ones — are working toward a common goal on behalf of the company. If you keep this big-picture context in mind as you go about your daily tasks rather than focusing on your coworkers’ irritating habits and tendencies, you’ll likely find that many of the annoyances start to drift away.

At the end of the day, it’s about doing your job and doing it well. Annoying coworkers may not be pleasant, but unless they are directly impacting your ability to do a good job, they’re just bumps on the road, not gigantic potholes. If they are, in fact, doing things that are sabotaging your own efforts,consider broaching the subject with them in a non-confrontational manner or having an informal discussion with a manager to see what can be done to address the issue.

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2. Focus on your own response.

You may not always have control over your circumstances, but you do have control over how you respond to those circumstances. When Bob leaves his dirty dishes in the kitchen sink for the third day in a row, or commits some other break room faux pas, you don’t have to take it out on Bob. Instead of getting angry, consider cleaning up the mess and leaving Bob a short, polite note telling him what you did. That may sound counterintuitive at first, but it will give Bob a chance to reflect on how his messiness affects others without you getting in his face and telling him to clean up after himself.

That same type of response can be applied to any office situation you find irritating. Rather than lashing out, do what you can to correct the problem in a way that allows annoying coworkers to reconsider their behavior in a new light. Over time, it just might lead to less irritating behavior and more productivity for everyone.


3. Do nothing, say nothing, reveal nothing.

The term “poker face” doesn’t only apply to card games. When difficult coworkers get under your skin, simply going about your business may be your best bet. If Sally has a Monday-morning habit of telling you about the exciting weekend she spent with her cats, try nodding in a neutral way and excusing yourself from the conversation.If your goal is to get annoying coworkers to cease their bothersome behaviors, you may find that refusing to react to what disturbs you actually helps prevent it from occurring again. Redirecting your own mental response patterns can result in an entirely different perspective, and different perspectives make for different outcomes.

As the pioneering psychiatrist Carl Jung said, “What you resist, persists,” meaning that maintaining focus on what we don’t want, as opposed to working toward our actual goals, has a way of perpetuating the same negative cycle that is causing us so much stress. It may be tempting to imagine Sally getting cat-scratch fever, but that’s just another log on the fire of negativity. Silently wish Sally and her feline

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friends the best, and then get busy with work-related matters.


4. Use the power of the pen — in private.

Sometimes, no matter how much you try to take a kinder, gentler approach, all you want to do is tell off the coworkers who are making your life at work so miserable. You can — just don’t do it in the workplace.

If you absolutely have to get what is bugging you out of your system, get out an old-fashioned paper notebook and ink pen in the privacy of your own home. There, with no one else around, give yourself a set amount of time to write exactly what you feel like saying to the annoying coworkers in question. Don’t censor yourself and keep in mind that they will never, under any circumstances, see what you write. That’s because you will be destroying what you’ve written by fire, shredder or scissors before it ever has the chance to make its way out of your house.

Read over what you’ve written before you destroy it, paying attention to how the words make you feel. Would it really help matters to call Matilda an idiot or tell Al he’s a world-class jerk? Probably not. However, writing your feelings down may help you deal with difficult coworkers in a less reactionary manner — and owning your own attitudes and behavior is what it’s really all about.

5. Take a look in the mirror.

OK, so Leon and Linda get on your nerves. But did you ever stop to think you might be getting on their nerves, too? By making the effort to become a better coworker, you may find that those around you start behaving differently in response.

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This doesn’t mean you have to change everything about how you approach work or what you do to maintain your own workplace peace of mind: We are, after all, individuals, and we’ve all developed our own personal best practices — along with those recommended by experts — to help us achieve our goals. It does mean, however, that analyzing your own work habits is a good way to ensure that you are not inadvertently upsetting someone else as much as they’re upsetting you.

In the final analysis, annoying coworkers are no more or less of an issue than you allow them to be. It may take some effort, but you don’t have to lash out in order to control your emotions. When you step back and see that each member of the workplace team has his or her own contribution to make, the things you find vexing about each one diminish in size and influence, allowing everyone involved to do the best job possible.

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