Admit it—you have at least one colleague who annoys you. Back when you were all in the office together, just seeing them would set your teeth grinding. So you’d think that working remotely would make it easier to deal with annoying colleagues. After all, they can’t swoop down on you when you’re working from home.
Yet many colleagues I have talked to have complained more about the coworkers that bug them, not less.
There are several reasons why you might actually be more bothered by the petty annoyances of work now than before. For one, the interminable stress pit that many people are dealing with has made it harder to shrug off the little things. For another, you don’t see your colleagues that often, and so your negative thoughts can have a bigger impact on your perception of work than your actual interactions with people. Finally, many of the things out there that are creating anxiety (the pandemic, the election, the economy) are ones that we can’t do much about. So, it is easier to focus your attention on something smaller and put all of your angst on that.
Here are a few things you can try to navigate this relationship more successfully:
Consider the context
In general—and particularly during the pandemic—people are dealing with a number of issues that go beyond work. Colleagues are dealing with child and family care problems, illness, and spouses who have lost jobs. In addition, the isolation of working from home is taking its emotional toll on many people.
Before you stew too much about the behavior of a colleague, ask them how they’re doing. Set up a brief call and just talk to them. In many cases, you may discover that your colleague is dealing with challenges that change the way you think about their behavior. Even if they are generally doing fine, that human connection may make them seem less annoying.
Ask a few questions
Part of what can make a colleague annoying is that they do things that you don’t understand. The best way to understand the reasons for people’s actions is to ask them. You don’t need to be aggressive with your question. A simple “I’m curious, why do you . . .” can work fine.
Sometimes, you discover that the annoying behavior actually has significant value for the colleague’s work. That can completely change your own evaluation of the behavior and might even make it seem less annoying.
Other times, you might be able to point out a better way for your colleague to achieve their goals. In that case, not only have you gotten rid of a source of frustration, but you are actually having a positive impact on your colleague’s productivity.
Request what you need
Another source of frustration with colleagues is that their work may infringe on your own productivity. They might miss deadlines, send work that has errors, or is missing key elements. Unless you are in a position of authority, you might find it difficult to call out these problems and to fix the problems yourself.
It is important to ensure that work you need to get your own assignments done is completed on time and does not need to be triple-checked for accuracy. If you continue to accept substandard contributions to your projects, you simply send the message that you are willing to do your colleague’s job as well as your own.
Instead, if there is something you need from a colleague, you have to ask for it. If a particular deadline matters to you, make that clear. If work you are given is done poorly, ask if your colleague would like some advice on how to improve it, but let your colleague take the lead on fixing it. You cannot expect anyone to help you achieve your goals if you don’t ask for what you need.