Your Guide to the Worst People in Every Office
The 6 Most Annoying Coworkers You'll Have
Cat memes you can resist watching (when necessary), but it’s harder to tell your gabby co-worker to scram so you can make this deadline, your overbearing boss that checking in three times a day is actually slowing down your progress, or the guy who insists on stinking up the office by eating canned tuna at his desk that your nose is crying.
“It’s easy to just be annoyed and leave it at that, but if someone is bothering you, particularly when you’re trying to get work done, you need to speak up,” says business communications expert Barbara Pachter, author of The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat and Tweet Your Way to Success. In the office, though, where women especially want to be taken seriously, there’s often a fear we’ll be viewed as too emotional or too aggressive.
And while some people just won’t listen (tuna man may not stop eating his fish), we have the best way to deal with six bothersome office prototypes.
Some people feel like your success threatens their standing as the “best” or the “resident expert.” (When you talk about how you may have had to crawl, but you made it over that finish line, she chimes in with how she ran her first marathon in under three hours. That girl.) “If you try and build an alliance, she’ll be less likely to view you as a competitor and one-up everything you say,” says Patricia Rossi, business etiquette expert and author of Everyday Etiquette. Compliment her on a recent success that took real skill, like running her first tri or even just nailing this morning’s presentation. [Tweet this tip!] Ask questions about the process to show you don’t think you know everything—“Oh, how long after your marathon were you back out running? Because I feel like I’ll be sore for weeks!” She doesn’t need to know you already know the answer.
On a slow afternoon, you’d probably welcome chitchatting, but there are always those people who visit your desk a little too often. Be straightforward if you can’t talk, suggests Pachter: “Chatty Cath, I need to get this to my boss in the next 30 minutes. Can I catch you at lunch?” Offering an alternative ensures she doesn’t feel blown off. If a pair of motormouths is parked in the next row, they may not know they’re being disruptive, so point out the obvious, nicely. Often they’ll be thankful you’ve alerted them to this embarrassing habit, says Pachter.
“Negativity is easy to catch, but joining in gossip will make you seem untrustworthy and shallow,” says Rossi. If you can’t leave the room, change the tone of the conversation with a positive rumor: “I heard they’re starting a new fitness program!” If she goes back to badmouthing someone close to you, you may have to endure an awkward moment to set her straight, says Pachter: “I know you mean no harm, but I don’t feel comfortable talking about our boss. I really enjoy talking to you when it’s positive things though. Is that okay?” Reassuring someone that you don’t think badly of them cushions the holier-than-thou implication of your comment, while also ensuring you won’t have to repeat yourself.
The Office Superstar
She got the project, promotion, and award you worked hard to go after, but your jealousy can overshadow the fact that she probably worked hard for it too, says Rossi. Put your ego aside and ask for her secret: “I see how well you’re doing, and I have a similar career trajectory for myself. Do you have any advice for me?” She might have taken a class or realized that cleaner presentations are what show the big guy commitment—and she might be able to share shortcuts he wish she’d know, explains Rossi. And if this over-achiever is above you on the totem pole, ask her to be your mentor, she suggests. Have lunch once a month and ask her the hardest and easiest part of the experiences you’re dealing with.
The Praiseless Boss
You grow from knowing what you’re doing well and what you need to work on, but outside of yearly reviews, she might not take the time for status updates. Fix it by asking for 20 minutes on her calendar sometime this week, suggests Pachter. Sit down and say, “I’ve been working on these projects and I believe I’ve been delivering what you want, but I wanted to confirm that and see if there is anything I could do better?” She knows who is doing a good job and who needs improvement where, so you should get feedback as soon as you ask for it, Pachter says. Try and check in once a quarter to make sure you’re on the right track, she adds.
The Micromanaging Manager
“We’re quick to assume they find us incompetent or unable to handle the task, but often your boss has a good reason for micro-managing,” says Pachter. If you’ve learned how to balance the duties of your new role, or your boss’ request to see every minor change is affecting your deliverable date, let him know you need a longer leash. At the start of a project, say something like, “How about I update you at x, y, and z milestone to get your feedback?” This lets her know you have things under control and gives him security that she’ll get a chance to sign off before too much progress is made. If she is constantly popping in, don’t be scared to be more specific: “When you ask me to check in with you twice a day, it slows my progress. Would it be okay if we had a weekly check in?” She probably doesn’t realize her attempt to help is having a negative effect, and standing up for yourself will show confidence, she adds. [Tweet this tip!]