two co-workers, one looking with disgust at the otherAfter giggling through the clip from the television show The Office (posted last week) about annoying co-worker behavior, I had this profound thought: the funniest humor is inspired by real life. Little did I know how real it could be.

In researching the subject of annoying co-workers, I found a website that captures instances of such behavior.  These are presumably actual experiences people have had with a co-worker. You can vent your spleen anonymously on this site and others can vote for the worst to best examples on a ten-point scale.

The site claims its goal is “to provide a system that will educate and inform a person of their annoying habits so they can be given a chance to change them without the confrontation or stress associated with this type of conversation.

I’ll say more about this tactic later.

Here’s a small sampling of the types of complaints people have submitted (the statements themselves are quite—ahem—colorful):

  • Issues about hygiene and cleanliness: leaving chewing gum stuck on the urinal; leaving a mess around the wash basin; not flushing the toilet; body odor
  • A variety of noisy mouth habits: slurping a beverage and then sucking the dry cup with a straw; loud or constant eating at the desk throughout the day; clicking teeth; humming;
  • Anything deemed too loud: hitting the keyboard so hard it can be heard out in the hall; loud speaking voice on the phone; clopping shoes; talking to oneself; shrill or cackling laughter
  • Distracting and inappropriate conversations during work time at work stations: incessant banal or personal conversations with other co-workers; gossiping; health or other personal issues discussed on the phone
  • Arrogance, bragging, condescension or any demonstration of superiority
  • Insistence that others follow their rules, habits or social norms such as separating trash from recyclables.
  • Arriving late; not working or being productive; taking credit that’s not due or blaming others; not taking responsibility for one’s own problems and behaviors; brown-nosing

I could go on but you get the idea.

Maybe you’ve experienced similar or worse behaviors in your work life. We all do at one time or another given the open-concept office environments and sheer amount of time we spend at work.

If you’re like many people I know, you put up with these pesky habitual behaviors for quite a while. You tell yourself to ignore them or that they’re not your problem to deal with. You convince yourself that it would only make things worse to say anything.

Lack of or wrong actions to curb annoying co-worker behavior can make things worse.

In fact, this is the rationale the annoying co-worker website makes: (avoiding the stress of a conversation by anonymously posting) “…is a proven method to reducing hostile and threatening scenarios within an work environment.”

Here’s the thing. If someone’s behavior drives you crazy, lack of action doesn’t make the problem go away. You only become more annoyed and unhappy as time goes on.

Here’s another thing. The wrong kind of action or approach can indeed make things worse. I would love to see the evidence that anonymous venting reduces “hostile and threatening scenarios.”

Imagine how you would feel if you received an anonymous email from a website called with a message like this: “Your Subway lunch of extra onions is nauseating. There’s a reason why we have kitchen, you self-centered ignorant cunt. You really think you are cute stinking up the office. Hope you choke on that footlong.”

This example was one of the milder ones. What effect do think this message would have on the work climate? Would it feel less threatening?

Does venting help?

Conventional wisdom maintains that venting is cathartic. I’ve been known to rant and rave as heatedly as the next person. It feels great in the moment. Powerful. A release of pent-up energy and oh, so righteous.

Venting lets you get out your anger and frustration and then helps you elaborate on those feelings. It winds you up because you focus on how annoyed you feel, why you’re justified in those feelings, and how truly awful and disgusting you find that person.

What venting does not do is solve your problem. Nor does it make you feel better in the long run. In fact, according to studies on this topic, venting makes you feel worse.

Brad J. Bushman from Iowa State University found that venting and ruminating on the object of your annoyance leads to increased feelings of anger and even aggression. 

If venting—whether anonymously or otherwise–isn’t the solution, then what is?

Distraction followed by providing feedback and setting boundaries.

Distraction is all about taking care of yourself so that you can figure out an effective way to set boundaries and provide feedback.

Here are ten ways to curb (notice I didn’t say stop entirely, forever) annoying (to you) co-worker behavior.

  1. When you feel your blood begin to boil (here she/he goes again), do something to shift your focus away from the annoyance. Think about your upcoming vacation, the love of your life or how to write the best report you’ve ever prepared.
  2. When you feel calmer, ask yourself, “What is it about this person and this specific behavior that gets under my skin? Why am I allowing it to bother me? Is it pushing a button that has more to do with me than her? Is it a pet peeve of mine, which makes it my issue to resolve?”
  3. Recall other behaviors this person has exhibited in the past that weren’t annoying. How has he contributed to the work group? What are her redeeming qualities?
  4. Get curious about this person. Ask yourself, “What is a reasonable explanation or motivation for doing what he’s doing?”
  5. Both number 3 and 4 are to remind you that this is a human being with strengths and warts just like you and deserves to be treated with respect.
  6. Give the person the benefit of the doubt. Don’t assume bad intent (he’s doing that just to annoy me). There’s a lot about this person’s life and history you know nothing about. He may not realize his behavior is annoying. She may be gossiping to feel better about herself. You don’t need to make excuses for him or her but try to be generous in your assessment.
  7. Plan on how to tell the person what you want and need. Own the fact that these are your needs. For example, if someone frequently interrupts you, say, “Hey, I’m in the middle of getting this presentation done, can we talk later?” If it’s loud, distracting noises of any kind, you might say, “I’m having trouble concentrating. Could you take those crunchy potato chips to the break room? Thanks.”
  8. If noise or smelly food issues bother several people, consider establishing group norms about them. For example, make it a group norm that all cooked or strong-smelling food is only eaten in the break room or cafeteria. Do this without embarrassing anyone.
  9. If after all this, you still get triggered by this person, distance yourself to the extent you can. Ask to be reassigned to a new desk or project. Eat in a different place. Wear noise-cancelling headphones.
  10. Live by the golden rule. Chances are you have some annoying behaviors too. Wouldn’t you want others to give you the benefit of the doubt? Treat others as you would want them to treat you.

No work place will be annoyance free. If you address those pesky issues rather than let them fester, you’ll boost your satisfaction. Remember, you don’t have to like everyone you work with but it is incumbent on you to find a way to remain respectful. Your response and demeanor reflects back on you not on them. Manage your reputation by behaving like the professional you are.

 How have you handled annoying co-worker behavior in the past?

photo credit: B Tal via photopin cc