Annoying co-workers: how to tolerate and even like(!) them

annoying co-worker conversation

Most of us have an annoying co-worker. Common complaints about colleagues include negativity, lying, incompetence, gossiping, incessant talking, competitiveness, slacking off, or rudeness. A persistently annoying co-worker can ruin our day at work and spoil what is otherwise a great job. It’s fortunate that our colourful world is full of different people, but it means you’ll always come across someone who’ll grind your gears. So the solution is to work on ourselves and take a compassionate perspective towards annoying behaviours.

At the end of the workday, it doesn’t matter whether you like the annoying behaviours of your colleagues, but instead how you feel at the end of each day. Changing your perspective doesn’t mean you agree with their behaviours, it just means you won’t let yourself be bothered by them, leaving you to happily get on with your day.

We will go through several steps to help you leave your state of frustration and accept (and maybe even like) your annoying colleague!

Radically accept the annoying behaviour

Before trying to respond to an annoying behaviour, the first step is to accept it, in its entirety. To radically accept something that is bothering you is to say “Ok, this person is doing this behaviour, and it is making me feel this way. I don’t like it, but this is the way it is right now.”

To radically accept what you dislike doesn’t mean to approve it or accept it as something you have to put up with in the future. It simply means to accept the reality right now. A simple example is when your train is delayed on your way to work, making you late for an important meeting. There is nothing you can do, you’re not happy about it, but “it is what it is”.

I’m late, but there’s no point getting annoyed, it is what it is. What can I do after I get off the train to limit the impact on the meeting I’ll be late for?

In the delayed train example, it makes little sense to get angry about the delay, as it won’t change the reality and help you be on time. Similarly, some behaviours your colleagues exhibit aren’t able to be changed in the moment, so we must recognise (mindfully!) that we can’t change the annoying behaviour and accept “it is what it is”.

Find something to admire

A tried-and-true method to adore someone is to notice the things that make them exceptional. No matter how annoying their behaviours are, there will things about your co-worker you can find to appreciate and admire. Your colleague might be a skilled public speaker, generous with their time to other colleagues, a good manager, care for others, do their job well or be a snappy dresser. The next time your colleague does their annoying behaviour, remember the positive attributes you noticed about them. This will keep your frustration levels balanced!

To take this to the next level, if you found something in your co-worker you admire that you could learn from, ask them for help. The bonding experience will help you focus on the positive aspects of your colleague.

women co-workers on laptops
A co-worker can become a friend when you look for things to admire. Ask them to teach you something that they rock at!

Chat to your annoying colleague

Decide that you will become friendly with your annoying co-worker and have conversations with them. Scout out opportunities to chat in the kitchen or in the elevator, and have a light-hearted chat with an open mind (no judgement).

Making the time to chat with your colleague will help you understand your co-worker better, their background, their struggles and habits. You might discover that an annoying habit of theirs is actually a coping mechanism in response to a major personal issue happening in their life. It’s best to empathise with your co-worker’s situation before taking issue with their behaviour- you may find you’ll be happy to be more tolerable of their behaviour when you understand their whole story.

annoying coworkers solution chat
Chat and get to know your annoying co-worker better – you’ll develop empathy for them and understand them, and their habits, better.

Create an opportunity to work together

Perhaps your annoying colleague is always on the ‘other side’ and you feel they are working against you. By working together, you’ll get to know them better and find ways to work together effectively.

If it’s difficult to find a project to work together on, you can explore the extra-curricular areas of the office; volunteering, sports team, organising a small social get together for your team or a small office fundraiser.

Plan ways to avoid the behaviours that annoy you

woman working on laptop
Escape from frustrating co-workers in a private area of the office

Think creatively about the undesirable behaviours you’re experiencing and what senses you can harness to avoid the behaviour.

use headphones by bose to block out annoying colleague
These headphones are perfect for blocking out annoying co-workers

Sight – Is a co-worker so annoying for you right now that you can’t stand looking at them? Consider temporary partitions, or securing a private workspace at the office for a couple hours a day.

Sound – Invest in noise cancelling headphones to block out humming, negative chat or incessant talking. We like the Bose noise cancelling headphones.

Smell – If they smell offensive to you (from smoke, body odour, food), try using essential oils or room sprays.

Touch – if your colleague touches you without permission, be direct in your response. A simple and direct statement will be clear, and leave no room for interpretation. Jokes or passive resistance rarely get picked up by this type of annoying co-worker. Look the person in the eye and say, “please don’t touch me again, I don’t like it”. The awkward moment will only last a minute and you can just switch into normal work chat at once if you feel uncomfortable leaving that statement hanging in the air.

Consider broaching the subject

Is the annoying behaviour something that could reasonably be stopped? Something as simple as pen tapping, or consistently being late to meetings can be dealt with non-confrontationally. We recommend following our Difficult Conversations template when having this conversation with your colleague. Remember that they may not realise what they have been doing, or that it is inappropriate/annoying to others.

Recognise if it’s more than annoyance and report it

If the annoying behaviour from your co-worker is inappropriate, raise the issue with the appropriate person. Refer to your manager or company handbook.

There’s a line between an annoying colleague and a toxic one. If you feel this colleague’s behaviour crosses the line into toxic behaviour or harassment, it’s important not to ignore this. The right thing to do is talk to the offending co-worker and to report the issue with your manager (or manager’s manager/HR team if the problematic person is your manager).

What about you?

No one is perfect! Have you got habits that might annoy others? The Business Insider published 31 unprofessional habits that are annoying in the office – you might realise you’re displaying some of them!

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Please share with us! Have you got any annoying co-workers? What did they do and how did you deal with it?

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