Whether you work in an open space office environment or sit at a desk enclosed by the timeless (and design-less) grey and beige cubicle walls - one similarity exists...you work along side other people. Nowadays companies are looking for more collaboration and interaction and it's up to you to focus and get your job done while avoiding certain types of distractions.
Enter the disruptive and annoying coworker.
Yes, you know whom if which I am speaking of. We have all endured them at one point in time along our career paths. Sure the movie industry has well documented certain stereotypes and I am sure there are many more that haven't made it to the big screen but one thing is certain, there are a few characters that seem to pop up in every office. If you do indeed work along side other human beings, there's a very small chance you all get along easily 100% of the time. You'll probably get annoyed with each and every one of them at some point — and there may even be a few who you absolutely can't stand.
Here are some of the most common types of negative workplace personalities and some ideas on how to effectively deal with them.
- The Forgetful Borrower
This person borrows staplers (red ones to), highlighters, tape and other things from others' desks and forgets to return them. Worse, he or she may not even ask to borrow them.
Solution: If you know who the culprit is and you haven't yet received your item back then you can address the issue head-on. The next time this happens, say something like, “Hey (insert name), I noticed you borrowed my (insert item) and was wondering if you still have it as I need it back.” If they have it, then hopefully you will get it back and it's a win-win. If they play coy and pretend to not know what you are talking about, short of you having evidence of an actual act of intent - let it go, learn from the situation and lock up the items in question moving forward.
- The Slacker
There always seems to be one team member who is content to let everyone else do the work, but is always there to take the credit. This is quite annoying and unfair.
Solution: Carl Jung said it best, "what you resist - persists." This couldn't be more true. If you fail to call this person out then you (and possibly your teammates) may fall prey to this persons undermining of your hard work. Speak up and responsibly confront this individual by asking them, "what exactly did you contribute to this assignment/project?". It's important to allow them to speak their mind as it will provide you valuable information into how they think and the reality in which they reside. If this doesn't work, you always have the option of going directly to your boss or manager and explain but more importantly document what work was actually done and by whom.
- The Passive-Aggressor
Though not openly complaining that someone else isn't working as much, The Passive-Aggressor still can't resist mentioning how late he or she stayed last night or commenting on his or her "insane" amount of work.
Solution: This one is actually quite easy. Typically ignoring these types of comments work best as acknowledging them will only show validation and potential praise for that persons perceived efforts. Silence is key. The Passive-Aggressor may also be prone to more direct behavior that could be seen as abusive which of course would require an escalation of action to your HR or People Team.
- The Drama Queen/King
"The term 'drama queen,' or less frequently, 'drama king' is usually applied to someone with a demanding or overbearing personality who tends to overreact to seemingly minor incidents. Psychologists might describe a drama queen or king as a neurotic personality with histrionic tendencies, meaning they tend to become needlessly dramatic whenever order is disrupted.
Solution: The easiest way to handle these type of people is simply refuse to take the bait. Dramatic people love drama but more importantly being center of attention so the more you respond to their drama (“Oh my gosh, that really happened to you?”), the more you feed their desire to be heard and validated. Instead, simply ignore the rants, and go on about your business. Your message—“I’m not interested”—will eventually be received.
- The Know-It-All
There are at least two variations of this workplace character, according to Lynne Eisaguirre's book Stop Pissing Me Off!: The Detail-Oriented Know-it-All, who relishes pointing out minutiae while missing the whole point; and The Fixer Know-it-All, who "insists on solving your problems for you, even if you don't want them solved, or, in fact, don't think you have a problem at all."
Solution: Unsolicited opinions can be as annoying as a car alarm going off all night keeping you awake. The key is to ignore both the situation and comments while not being completely dismissive. Try saying, “Thanks, I'll think about that.” And if you find yourself getting frustrated, comfort yourself with the knowledge that this person is most likely perceived as potentially obnoxious, insecure or maybe trying "too hard" to fit in.
- The Suck-up
The Suck-up can't wait to find a new way to be recognized by the boss. This coworker is always there to remind the boss just how wonderful he or she is, even if it's at the expense of others.
Solution: Annoying? Most definitely. Harmful? Not really, unless of course this person is stepping on or over you to forward their agenda. Typically these types of people are easy to spot when discovered in the act but again pay close attention. The key is understanding that this individual is clearly seeking both visibility and acknowledgement and it has nothing to do with you. This type of behavior is usually quite transparent to the other person as well that they are sucking energy from and usually runs it course whether long term or short.
- The Gossiper
One could argue that the office gossip is the mayor of the water cooler. They always "appear" to know what's happening, to whom and by when. Whether it's potential layoff, hiring, firing or anything to do with salaries. They thrive on sharing this information to anyone who will listen. Substantiated or not, these rumors get repeated over and over, usually by the same people, who just love stirring up the worst-case scenario of what’s going on.
Solution: When dealing with information that is coming from a secondary or questionable source, it's always best to substantiate the claims as much as possible. Said another way, "just the facts please." Don't be afraid to question them or their source. They will quickly get that aren't interested in watching "TMZ the Office Edition" and as result they will stay clear of you because probing for facts takes all the fun (and drama) for them. Another solution I found that could equally be effective is to outright say something like, "Sorry - I can't help you with that" or be bolder in expressing your disdain for gossip. Either way you will relieve yourself of being a gossip repository.
- The Victim
No matter how good things are, there is bound to be something to complain about and more importantly someone to blame for their ill perceived hardships. This disgruntled employee — justified or not — is a drag to work with. Worse, chronic complaining is a contagious habit, which can result in a toxic and negative working atmosphere.
Solution: People with a victim mentality don't believe they have any ownership or control of the situation (or areas of their life). In their world, things are being done to them. Sometimes it's actually part of a greater or larger conspiracy theory pitted against only them which makes addressing this behavior a little more complex. Unless you have a healthy does of emotional intelligence (as well as patience) - it may prove best to acknowledge what's being said without agreement, then casually look to move on or away. The key is to avoid further anchoring into the victim's conversation and the evidence they have collected as to why their life is the way it is.
This is by no means a scientific or complete list. I am aware after speaking with a few dozen people on this topic, there are a few more coworkers to watch out for such as:
- The "loud talker"
- The "life is always a metaphor"
- The "everything is a movie analogy"
- The "open-mouth chewer"
- The "steal your lunch from the fridge"
- The "not showered lately coworker"
- The "close talker"
- The "won't let you finish a sentence"
Whenever you isolate many different types of people into one workspace, anticipate some personality clashes. Certain types of behaviors, such as those listed here, are annoying but don't necessarily have to be career derailers. It is important to not only approach irritating colleagues carefully, but also to remind yourself to avoid certain situations that could otherwise jeopardize both your career and overall happiness. With most types of annoying co-workers, the key is to be professional and straightforward not hostile or mean. By attacking a coworker verbally (and hopefully never physically) you not only step way over the line but directly put your job and career in jeopardy. Remember....
You can’t control other people; the only thing you can control is the way you choose to respond to them.
The floor is yours. What are some annoying traits you have witnessed?
Not-your-typical Personal and Executive Master Certified Coach.
Joshua Miller is a creative and impactful leader. His career experience has spanned both the advertising world and the world of leadership and organizational development. In advertising, he was responsible in delivering campaign strategies for Fortune 100 companies. Now he innovates and delivers results when supporting executive talent development and change management for the same clients.