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Ask The Experts: My Coworker Thinks Everything Is Urgent

When it’s all high-priority, nothing is. This week we tackle one of the most annoying email habits.

Ask The Experts: My Coworker Thinks Everything Is Urgent
[Photo: Fickr user Thomas Leuthard]

Of course we all like to think that the work we do is important and makes a difference in the world. But chances are few of us are dealing in matters of life and death on a daily basis. So what’s with all the “high priority” emails?

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This week we help a reader curb her coworker’s fanatic email habits.

Hello,

I have a coworker who is often difficult and obnoxious, specifically in email. Her most annoying email habit is to add “NEED ASAP” to the subject line of every single email. When I addressed this in a polite and professional manner (and not in front of others) her response was immature.

I’ve tried ignoring the “NEED ASAP,” I’ve tried to passive aggressively give her the requested items much later, I’ve even tried explaining to her the process of requested materials (how many people it has to go through, how long it takes me to create it, etc.). Nothing has worked.

I would ask her boss to address it but they are good friends, so I’m not sure her boss would really address it.

How do I put a stop to it?

Thank you!

C.M.


Dear C.M.

This is definitely annoying. Your coworker did not take the moral of The Boy Who Cried Wolf to heart when hearing it as a child.

The big question you need to ask yourself here is “Does this matter?” From your letter, it doesn’t sound like your colleague is making specific demands after sending the email. That is, there is no unrealistic deadline attached, nor does she complain when you passive-aggressively send what she needs later than you could have.

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It sounds like your colleague adds this NEED ASAP to help her own anxiety about work that needs to be done, or perhaps to feel like she is issuing a forceful command. Worse yet, because you find this colleague to be difficult and obnoxious in person, you can hear this NEED ASAP in her voice in your head.

I would also guess that if a colleague you like had this (admittedly annoying) habit, you would probably let it go without comment, and you would probably manage to ignore it before too long.

All that suggests that it might be easier to change yourself than to change your colleague. There are a few things you can do.

Try being nice

Having an annoying colleague is partially a self-fulfilling prophecy. There are always people in the world who just rub you the wrong way. Once you start getting annoyed, you will start to act differently toward this person than you do toward people who you like. For example, you might become more sensitive to other things they do that annoy you. You might start doing things passive-aggressively.

Your nemesis will pick up on these actions, and that may affect the way she treats you. So, the more annoying you find your colleague, the more you may act in a way that increases the number of things she does to annoy you.

To break that cycle, start being nice. Even small things like asking her how her weekend was when you see her in the hall or offering to take care of something she needs may shift the tone of your interactions. If so, that may make some of her other annoying habits easier to bear.

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Make it a joke

You know it is coming. Every time you open a request from your colleague, you know you’re going to see the offending NEED ASAP. So, find ways to take the sting out of it. Keep a pad by your computer and keep a tally of the week’s ASAPs. Change the annoying voice you hear in your head when you read her message to something you find amusing–a cartoon character or the voice of Darth Vader. The main thing is to keep it light.

Make it a force for good

When all else fails, make your colleagues annoying behavior something you look forward to. Take a coffee can or another container and put the name of your favorite charity on it. Every time she sends one of her NEEDS ASAP messages, put a dollar (or your spare change) into the can. Now, you can root for the next time she sends a message to give you an excuse to help save the world.

The main point is that there are a lot of ways to change your reaction to this annoying habit. Rather than spending more time trying to change something that your colleague clearly does not want to change, just take a deep breath, smile, and let it go.


If you have a dilemma you’d like our panel of experts to answer, send your questions to AskFC@fastcompany.com or tweet us a question using #AskFC.

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