Colleagues can make or break your office experience -- and everyone has at least one boss, intern, or teammate whose annoying qualities drive them up the wall. “How do you people like this even exist?” you ask yourself. “And how did they make it this far in life?”
You might never get the answers, but one thing’s for sure: you won’t last too long with them in your perimeter. How do you deal with these people without blowing a fuse or being forced to resign?
While every situation requires a different treatment, the general principle is that when you confront somebody, you need to address their behaviour – not him as a person. Confrontations are always a little awkward, but the person will be less defensive if you focus on his actions without judging him.
Read on to learn more about the most common annoying colleagues and how to properly deal with them.
1. The jokester who thinks he’s funnier than he actually is
You laughed at his first couple of jokes, and even helped him pull off his first office prank, but now he’s just gotten irritating. This would-be comedian fails to understand that a successful joke is all about the timing and delivery. And no matter how funny his one-liners sound on paper, they fall flat in real life because he drops them when you’re busy, when you’re trying to focus, or when you’re simply not in the mood.
Solution: We hate to break it to you, but this isn’t a problem you can bring to HR, or even to your manager, unless you can make a solid case for how disruptive this guy is. Subtle deflection is the way to go. If you’re in the position to delegate work, see if you can keep him busy with a few additional tasks. If not, practise a little grace: someone who tells that many jokes, despite the lack of good feedback, must be intent on proving something. Compliment him when he does something else especially well, and maybe he’ll eventually grow secure enough to not have to win you over with humour.
2. The pickup artist
This guy (or gal!) is a grade-A creep. While he might have a preference for impressionable interns and junior colleagues, he practices no discrimination as long as the person’s got a heartbeat and a pair of working legs. Every morning at 11:45 AM, he asks you out to lunch. Then he asks if you want to hang out on the weekend. When you say no, he moves on to your coworker. What do you do?
Solution: Lots of people, especially women, tend to give gentle “no’s” because they’re afraid of offending the other person. In this case, you need to be a little more firm. Say no when he asks you out, give one-world acknowledgments when he makes weird comments about your appearance, and when he loiters around your cubicle, directly tell him that you’re trying to work. You don’t need to be mean, but you shouldn’t worry about being gentle either. You have a right to inform someone when he is making you feel uneasy.
3. The pampered prince/princess who complains about the office too much
“It’s too hot.” “It’s too cold.” “The food around here is so bad.” “The toilets are so smelly.” “Our microwave sucks.” “I wish the office gave us free paper towels.” “It smells like fish.” “The acoustics are horrible here.” This person’s lists of complaints are endless – and while the things she whines about are true, her constant reminders only serve to bring down the atmosphere.
Solution: Positive reinforcement is key here. It’s not easy to change a negative person into a positive one, but it’s also important that her attitude doesn’t enable other coworkers who also have negative tendencies. Take your grumpy colleague out for lunch (bring along an especially happy colleague if you have one), and take charge of the conversation. Every time it goes somewhere snippy, just steer it back to something good. Talk about all the things you love about your office, such as the great bosses, the close distance to the MRT, or the fact that everyone uses Mac computers instead of PCs. As soon as she agrees with you – or even better, once she thinks of something positive on her own – just go with it, and bit by bit, she will begin to change.
4. The intrusive mother hen
This colleague doesn’t know how to keep her nose out of your business. She’ll talk about how you’re snacking too much, how you need a haircut, and how you should start carrying designer bags instead of no-labels. Although you try not taking her comments seriously, it’s hard to feel good about yourself when someone is constantly criticising your habits.
Solution: Ugh. This colleague might as well be your mother-in-law on menopause. There are two things you can do here. You can either take a straightforward approach by saying, “That was inappropriate” (with a completely serious face), before burying yourself in work, or you should brush it aside with an assertive quip. For example:
Busybody colleague: “A young and successful woman like you should be carrying a designer bag by now.”
You: “I’m happy with my tote.”
Busybody colleague: “But you’re a professional. A bag should show status.”
You: “I guess that’s true if you have something to prove.”
5. The boss’s incompetent lackey
If your boss were Captain Hook, this person would be Smee. He complains to you about the boss, only to simper and agree with everything the boss says when he swings around. This colleague is a master manipulator. He flatters the boss to conceal his incompetence, he stays late for no reason just to look like he’s a hard worker, and he randomly buys the boss treats to eat even when it’s not necessary. Before you know it, this colleague will be on his way to a promotion earned purely through brown-nosing.
Solution: While you might be tempted to service this colleague some much-deserved justice by exposing his incompetence to the boss, your plans could backfire by making it look like you’re jealous of the favour he’s earned. Your best bet is to ally yourself with your other teammates to produce work that far outshines anything the brown-noser achieves. A group of hardworking, competent people are always more effective than one self-promoter who’s full of hot air. And even if he does get a promotion, chances are he’ll have a difficult time properly leading a team or doing his job well, as he got it through flattery and not actual skills. So don’t be too jealous of his success, as his devious ways will surely catch up with him.
6. The coworker who works in another time zone
We don’t mean the coworker who literally works 8000 miles away in a telecommuting position. We mean the person who always arrives an hour late, who always misses his deadlines, who only sends emails after office hours, and who schedules two-hour meetings at 5 PM, when everyone’s dead set on getting home.
Solution: Whatever you do, don’t enable this person. If talking to him doesn’t work, then you’ll need to communicate that he’s only hurting himself by being so late. When he asks you for details on the meeting he missed, gently suggest that he ask the higher-up who conducted the meeting. Heck, you can even make things fun by enforcing a rule that the last person to show up to a meeting has pay for everyone’s coffee. On a more serious note, if he turns an article in late, delay its time of release. Don’t do the person’s work for him when he’s M.I.A. Let him clean up his mistakes himself, then perhaps he’ll know better than to disrespect your time.
7. The person who steals your lunch
Almost everyone’s seen that classic Friends episode where Ross has an emotional breakdown after a colleague eats his turkey sandwich. As ridiculous as the episode was, we have to agree that few things are more annoying than having to go outside and buy lunch because someone stole yours.
Solution: You have several options here. You can buy one of those prank sandwich bags that makes it look like your bread has mold on it. You can write your name on your food container. You can leave a passive-aggressive Post-It note in the pantry about how much you grieved the loss of your sandwich. Or you can even package the ingredients of your lunch separately and only assemble them once you’re ready to eat. Stealing a salad is one thing – but having to mix stolen salad, lettuce, chicken, pasta, and dressing yourself is not worth the effort to most petty office thieves.
8. The coworker who asks way too many questions
Most of the time, asking questions is a good thing. It certainly beats messing up at a task because you didn’t ask enough questions. But nobody likes a coworker who asks questions because she’s absentminded or too lazy to figure things out herself. She’ll ask you about things that were in an email you were both CC’d on, or she will need assistance every time she has to use the fax machine.
Solution: Stop making yourself so available. If you know she’s asking you something that she can easily figure out herself, wait awhile before answering. Say you’re in the middle of a task and will get to it later. Eventually, she’ll be forced to solve the problem herself, and will learn to only ask questions that she really needs you for.
9. The colleague who makes loud personal phone calls
Generally, long-winded personal phone calls should be kept to a minimum as they’re not appropriate for a professional environment. Unfortunately for you, your cubicle neighbour has seemingly no shame and can blab to her friends on the phone about gossipy things for 20 minutes or more.
Solution: As awkward as it sounds, you need to take this person aside and inform her that everyone can hear what she’s talking about on the phone. Tell her that it’s disruptive, distracting, and a little disturbing to know all about her personal dating life. Kindly suggest she either take her calls outside, or learn to use instant messenger. The experience might feel a little embarrassing, but trust us, the rest of your office will love you for it.
10. The coworker who comments on your hours
When you come in at 8:45 instead of 8:30, your colleague says, “Glad you made it!” When you come back from your (sanctioned!) two-hour lunch break on the dot, she says, “You must have traveled for to eat.” When you leave at 5, she says, “Going already?” And when you take half a day off, she says, “Again?!”
Solution: The only person who should care about your hours is your boss. If your boss is fine with them, who cares what your colleague thinks? Nonetheless, her comments are annoying, so you can deal with it by telling her directly that that her comments make her uncomfortable. Keep in mind that she’s probably projecting her own unhappiness onto you, and don’t her make you feel as if you’re lazier than anyone else.