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How to Deal with an Annoying Coworker

2/15/2012 4:30:56 PM

By Angela Rose,

Forget zombies. Annoying coworkers are the plague of this century and, at their worst, they prevent us from doing our jobs efficiently, costing businesses thousands of dollars per employee per year in lost productivity as a result. Last month I wrote about how to limit distractions at work. I learned from you, our readers, that annoying co-workers are by far your biggest distraction. Here are some suggestions for dealing with them.

Keep it Short - Talkative coworkers are perhaps the worst for sapping productivity. Whether she ambushes you in the lunchroom with news about her kids, hovers around your desk jabbering about the weekend, or sends you a never-ending stream of emails containing pictures of cats, she makes it difficult for you to get your work done. While you don’t want to do anything overtly rude, you can keep your responses perfunctory. She will soon get the hint that you’re busy, uninterested or both.

Teach the Man to Fish – Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and he’ll feed himself for a lifetime. Giving fish (or answers, advice, assistance) to a needy coworker may get him out of your hair today, but he’ll be back for more tomorrow. Teach him how to fish by creating written documentation of your advice (print out the emails, for example). The next time he approaches you with the same request, refer him to those materials. Before you know it, he’ll be fishing for himself (and you’ll have documentation showing that you helped a coworker, which could prove fruitful at your next performance evaluation).

Kill Him (with Kindness) – Overly critical, often bossy coworkers are certainly annoying. Whether he is ridiculing your suggestion at a staff meeting or playing boss when the boss isn’t around, it causes major distraction. Put an end to his reign of terror by killing him with kindness. Respond to every jab with saccharin sweetness. His words may be dripping with venom, but yours drip with honey. When he fails to get a rise out of you, he will get bored and move on.

Be Direct – Sure, dealing with an annoying coworker can be uncomfortable and inconvenient. But keep in mind that what you find annoying, your coworker may see as merely constructive, friendly or inclusive. If the annoying activity does not directly affect you, ignore it. If it does, address the issue with directness and sensitivity. Most people do not want to be considered annoying, and they’ll be willing to modify their behavior to remedy the situation.

I suspect you all have encountered at least one annoying coworker in your career (you may even be one yourself). How have you dealt with them? Share your experiences in the comments.

About the Author

Angela Rose researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for

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