The Annoying Coworker

We have all worked with a coworker that everything that he or she did would get on our nerves, draw our attention away from work, or even make the workplace unbearable.  Although we might have desperately wanted to forget the person every day as we came into work, we still will remember their name years later.  They are the ones that you see a past coworker on the street or in a store and eventually the conversation turns to that person that no one could stand and what happened to them.

The annoying behavior could be because the coworker was a sycophant, braggart, whiner, or narcissist.  It could be even simpler and just be someone that did not have the social skills to know what was and was not appropriate work behavior.  Regardless of the reason, the actions and behaviors of this person can be a real distraction in the workplace.

A recent HCS survey of 400 organizations found that 82 percent of workplaces have someone that is annoying to the point of impacting productivity in the respondent’s work unit.  The most common impact on the work unit included:

  • reduced teamwork due to a desire not to interact;
  • lost productivity due to time spent dealing with conflicts in the work unit; and
  • reduced morale due to the dread of dealing with the person.

When respondents were asked what the long term impact was, the number one answer was turnover.  In other words, if I do not like the people I work with, I will find somewhere else to work.  The degree of turnover was higher for those respondents that identified the annoying party as being the supervisor.

If you have to interact with someone that is hard to deal with there are a few things you can do to reduce the impact the person is having on your productivity.

Listen – Many times annoying behaviors are related to a desire for some type of attention.  Just like a child, sometimes bad behavior as an adult is driven by a desire to be noticed.  Understanding what an annoying person wants and how best to utilize them can make a difference in their interaction with others.  It can be hard to listen to more of the same, but it is important that you guide the conversation so that the person describes what workplace characteristics bring out their less than desirable behaviors.

Empathy – Like with any employee, a little empathy can make a big difference in reducing their negative influence.  Every workplace has different personalities to contend with on a regular basis.  A great analogy that I heard before is that managing people is like playing chess, but after every two moves the placement of pieces on the board changes completely.   Understanding what is behind the behaviors allows a coworker or manager to adjust the environment to reduce the root causes of the behavior.  An employee that is not recognized for his or her contribution, possesses low self-esteem, lacks trust, exhibits pessimism, or suffers from little social ability typically acts out and comes into conflict with others.  However, a manager can reduce the severity of these characteristics by changing the way that he or she deals with and utilizes the employee.

Boundaries – Like any trying environment, it is important to be able to escape and recharge.  Human beings are very resilient, but should not remain under constant duress and pressure.  You should not be afraid to return to your own work area when you need a break and close your door.  An annoying person can become overwhelming and depending on the cause spend a considerable amount of time draining his or her coworkers.  By setting boundaries, you can better control the periods that you have to deal with the person.

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