How to Deal With an Annoying Co-Worker Without Getting Punched

Brian Jenkins writes about a variety of topics related to the workplace for The Riley Guide.

An annoying co-worker may be condescending, an overachiever, an egomaniac, a kiss-up, an intimidator, a loud talker, a gossiper, or, if you’re extremely unlucky, he or she may have all of these traits. Annoying co-workers often prevent people from doing their jobs efficiently, and this can easily cost companies thousands of dollars per worker per year in lost productivity. Being direct, yet sensitive, with an annoying co-worker usually works best.

Co-workers often have no idea they are annoying and most of them, when asked nicely, modify their behavior to fix the problem. Mitchell Kusy, Ph.D., professor at Antioch University and a Fulbright scholar, studied the causes and effects of behavior of toxic co-workers. He and his colleagues surveyed 500 corporate leaders, identified by co-workers as “toxic.” Most of the people said they had no idea how people at the workplace perceived their behavior.

The Manipulator

This co-worker ingratiates himself to you, proceeds to use you for his own advantage, and then dumps you and seeks another victim. He sees manipulation as a tool for success. His compliments drip with insincerity. He may even offer you a future reward that you won’t get, and he will also try to take credit for your work. At first you may not realize you’re being manipulated, as skilled manipulators get the gold star for subtlety.

Don’t let a manipulator see your weaknesses. Don’t make any comments you don’t want repeated in the office; manipulators will twist your words. Keep the conversations short and work oriented. When he begins using sneaky strategies to get you to do his bidding, find an excuse to leave, such as you have to go to the bathroom or make a telephone call. After a few failed attempts at manipulations, he may realize you’re on to his game.

Whatever you do, don’t let manipulators do you a favor because you’ll likely repay that favor many times over. They skillfully use favors to get others under their control.

The Bully

Bullies are often bossy, impatient, quick-tempered, and make snarky comments. Hold your ground with the office bully. They’ll gain respect for you and soon back off. Simply ignore his obnoxious behavior. If he fails to annoy you, he will likely move on to someone else. Asking the boss to intervene on your behalf may lead to resentment and revenge.

Loud Co-Worker

These people simply talk too loud, especially on the telephone. Their loud, annoying laughs resonate throughout the office. They may not realize their voice surges in volume during telephone conversations, or perhaps they actually crank up the volume to demonstrate to co-workers that they’re extremely important. What can you do with these co-workers? Discuss the problem privately. Be sensitive and say something like, “I’m one of those people who have a hard time concentrating when people talk loudly. I hope I’m not being rude but could you please lower your voice a little bit? I would really appreciate it.”

The Hoverer

The hoverer may be the biggest productivity destroyer. The hoverer comes over to socialize but hides his true desire with a question and then hangs around for no good reason. Courageously tell this person, “Thanks for coming over, but I have a deadline I have to meet. I have to get back to work.” Being assertive is not the same as being aggressive. Simply let them know you need to focus on your work.

Other strategies include staring at your computer screen as if you’ve just discovered how to make gold bars from gelatin or talking about subjects you know they have no interest in. If they talk about a silly reality show, talk about government spending. They’ll likely cut the conversation short. Or, you could put the person to work. Ask them to perform a task you can’t complete until you’re done with you’re current project. After you try this a couple of times, they’ll likely get the hint. You could also try to be boring for a few minutes, and they’ll probably go away.

In general, when dealing with annoying co-workers, make requests instead of complaints. A complaint is essentially a negative description of a person’s behavior, which often makes a person defensive and creates resistance. Requests have a much better chance of success, especially when made with a few drops of kindness.

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