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How to handle the 3 most annoying types of coworkers

A new survey identified the top three pet peeves we have about our coworkers.

How to handle the 3 most annoying types of coworkers
[Photo: Jaymast/iStock]

Strong coworker relationships have been tied to job satisfaction, but there’s probably at least one person on your team who you could live without. It could be due to a simple personality mismatch, but it could also be because of their annoying habits.

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A new survey from the project management software provider Mavenlink identified the top three pet peeves we have about our coworkers:

  1. Laziness: Nearly half (47%) of all respondents cited “lazy coworkers” as their biggest pet peeve. Who likes to carry their weight and the weight of someone else on a project?
  2. Bad attitudes: The second most popular answer from the survey was “bad attitudes,” with 42% of respondents citing it as a source of annoyance. This can be the toxic coworker who never has anything nice to say.
  3. Poor communication skills: The third most popular answer was “poor communication skills,” with 34% of respondents saying it frustrates them. No one wants to be told at the last minute about an urgent project nor do they want vague answers to questions.

“It’s so very human to feel frustrated or annoyed by a coworker’s behavior,” says Sarah Greenberg, a licensed psychotherapist with BetterUp, a global coaching community. “Our feelings are valid. However, when we let those feelings fester they can eat away at our own productivity and well-being. I like to think of strong feelings as helpful signals or calls to action.”

Fortunately, employees have a variety of options for decreasing coworker annoyances and the negative impact they can have.

Speak up

Rather than silently stewing, Kevin Cruz, assistant professor of management at the University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business, offers a simple solution: Politely and immediately let the other person know when and why they are being annoying.

“It can be a simple but powerful way to prevent annoyances from continuing and negatively impacting productivity,” he says.

Defining and comparing expectations to identify where there is agreement and disagreement can help, Cruz adds. For example, if an employee is frustrated with a coworker who doesn’t have the same sense of urgency about a project, they may discover that the coworker has other, more important project deadlines to meet.

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“Once disagreements are identified, coworkers can work together to find a consensus in their expectations of each other,” he says. “At the very least, it helps employees better understand where their coworkers are coming from.”

Double-check your reaction

Stress from other areas of your life may be clouding your response. Greenberg advises you to dig deeper to determine the cause of your feelings. “Without judgment, ask yourself, ‘Is my reaction proportionate to the behavior I’m experiencing, or is there something more going on?'” she says. “The answer might be a resounding ‘yes,’ or you might discover a new perspective.”

Sometimes the behaviors that frustrate you most can be more about you than they are about the other person, says Greenberg.

“One client I worked with saw red every time her coworker walked in five minutes late,” she says. “It turns out her own parents raised her to believe that showing up late was a sign of disrespect, so every time this happened she took it personally.”

Dr. Greg Barnett, senior vice president of science of the talent optimization software The Predictive Index, calls this the “it’s not you, it’s me” approach.

“Before trying to tackle your coworkers’ behavior, reflect on exactly what is so bothersome,” he says. “Often, the issue isn’t our coworkers, but our own personality and values that are driving the disdain. Fixing yourself is hard, but self-awareness allows the best leaders to pause and consider their own role in a frustrating work dynamic.”

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Greenberg suggests getting curious about other potential causes. “When [her client] discovered that coworker actually was late due to his kids’ school schedule, not only did she feel more empathy for her worker, but also her mornings got better because she didn’t have to spend energy on feeling so frustrated,” she says.

It can be important for coworkers to go below the surface to understand what fuels and drives their colleagues, says Barnett. “This understanding can go a long way towards tempering bad feelings and miscommunication because the actions can be contextualized,” he says. “In other words, most of these interpersonal issues boil down to the fact that your coworker isn’t intentionally trying to annoy you; it’s just the way they are.”

Find their good attributes

One tendency people can have when they have a troubling coworker is focusing on the area you dislike and applying it to their entire persona. This is called the “halo effect,” says Kyle Emich, associate professor of management at University of Delaware.

“One thing that can help overcome this is to take a teamwork approach to dealing with them as opposed to an individual approach,” he says. “Consider that they are part of the organization and, as long as they can do one thing well, they can still help,” he says.

Doing this requires you to break out of the halo mindset and understand the person as a more complex individual made up of good and bad pieces, says Emich.

“It is particularly important to pay attention to anything that the person can do well to help the workplace, or anything they can do that you can’t do,” he says. “It is important to recognize that someone doesn’t have to be good at everything. If they’re good at one thing you’re not good at, they can help you with a project or in your career.”

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Regain your focus

An annoying coworker might be distracting, but it’s important to focus on your own work. “Put your individual tasks and projects first, and try not to get distracted, frustrated, or stressed out by any negative noise on the sidelines,” says Rhiannon Staples, chief marketing officer of Hibob, people management software provider. “It’s all about finding your zen using stress management tactics, and what helps you focus amidst a sea of coworkers.”

Staples suggests trying different techniques. For example, become more introspective and try meditating. Or leaning on close friends at work for support and advice. Or making a to-do list of your own and sticking to it can help you hold yourself accountable for your own projects.

“[Try] putting in your earbuds and listening to music that gets you in the zone,” she says. “Move to a different work area in the office where you can focus more productively. If you don’t have flexibility in where you sit, try taking a walk around the block or getting a cup of coffee or tea.”

Knowing your work style and implementing time management techniques that get you prioritized and focused is key to calming your frustrations.

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