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Short Fuse

I have a tendency to internally fly off the handle at what some people would call minor annoyances. Sometimes, when driving alone in the car or in the privacy of my own home, I’ll vocalize my annoyance as a way to make myself feel better or because the absurdity of the situation makes it impossible not to react. While out shopping, I’ve found myself muttering things to my husband under my breath about other patrons, half hoping they hear what I say and adjust their behavior. The rules on reacting are quite different when in a professional environment, however, and my road rage coping techniques won’t exactly fly in my office. Because of this, I’ve had to find other ways of dealing with annoying coworkers.

Here are a few of my favorites. These are ways to deal with the types of annoyances that aren’t violating company policies and aren’t a big enough issue to complain to human resources or your supervisor about, BUT still get under your skin and disrupt your workday. Please feel free to add your own techniques in the comments section:

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1. Headphones are your friend. Between people using nail clippers at their desk, loudly gossiping with others in person or on the phone, eating loudly, or creating another type of noise pollution, I often find myself incredibly distracted and annoyed by what is going on around me. It’s not impossible for me to concentrate while someone loudly clears phlegm from their throat every thirty seconds, but it makes it quite difficult. My iPod is a lifesaver. I can’t fix other people and I don’t want to be that person who whines to the boss about people cracking their gum. By blocking it out, I’m avoiding the nonsense without causing friction between myself and my coworkers. When I can’t use it, I play music through my computer speakers. It allows me to focus on the music rather than the noise around me.

2. Take a walk. Work can be stressful, be it because of your coworkers or due to customers who make you wonder if common sense has become a myth. Perhaps your stress is coming from a slow computer or malfunctioning printer. Maybe you got in a fight with a loved one prior to coming to work and the stress of the argument is sticking to you like glue, causing you to be overly sensitive. Whatever the reason for your stress is, a brief walk and change of scenery can do wonders for your mood. Use the excuse of needing a bathroom break if you aren’t able to escape your desk without reason. The simple act of walking through a doorway cues your brain to refresh itself, which can leave the stress behind and allow you to return to your duties in a much better state.

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3. Vent away. I’m a big fan of using Twitter as a way of saying the things I want to say out loud but can’t. If you’re a regular visitor to my site, you know about my coworker from hell, nicknamed “not-Paula Deen” or “Tubberpottimus.” I am able to tolerate more because I can grab my phone and fire off a comment or two in order to make myself feel better. It also helps to have other people respond to me who are also dealing with the same thing at their jobs. I’m not suggesting you violate any company policies by utilizing sites that aren’t allowed or using your phone when you aren’t permitted, but using social media to vent can and will help you cope. If you’re offline at work, type it in a word document, scratch it on a notepad, call a friend on lunch break, or anything else that allows you to vent your frustrations and move on.

4. Get busy. There is almost always work to be done somewhere in the office, just lying in wait in the hopes that someone will come along and tackle it. Why not have that someone be you? When you’re immersed in work, it’s easy to develop a tunnel vision of sorts that allows you to unconsciously block out the annoyances around you. As I typed that last sentence, it took someone multiple tries to get my attention because I was so focused on what I was doing. Request to be assigned to special projects, assist coworkers you enjoy with their tasks, or go organize the supply room. Just find something that will require your full concentration and allow you to build an invisible wall between you and your misbehaving colleagues.

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5. Find an ally. There is always going to be someone in the office who shares your views and is equally frustrated with things in the workplace. If you’re lucky enough to find this person and if you’re lucky enough to know for sure that they are a trustworthy person, take advantage! I am thankful that I have a handful of people in my office who see “not-Paula Deen” for the monster she is and who can sympathize with me and make me laugh about uncomfortable situations. It can be something as simple as having someone who shares your dislike for loud eaters; simply knowing you’re not alone and being able to do something as small as share a glance with someone can ease the situation and make things more bearable.

6. Look busy. Maybe you’re not overwhelmed with work or maybe you’re just feeling unmotivated today. Whatever the reason, you’re not pressed for time or closing in on any deadlines. You are now a target for the overly chatty coworker who just has to tell you about their wild weekend or what their kids have been up to. Rather than be the rude person in the office who dismisses people abruptly, be the person who cares but needs to get back to work. Keep a binder or folder handy that you can grab and begin to sort through, have spreadsheets open on your desktop, or grab the phone and dial up your cell phone to fake an important call. They will eventually either get the hint or begin to think of you as the hardest working person in the office. Either way, they leave you in peace.

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7. Laugh it off. I have a coworker who gets frustrated with an area lead who constantly interrupts others during weekly meetings. Rather than be miserable about the minutes he keeps tacking onto the meeting with his constant interjections, she has made a game out of it. Sometimes she’ll play hangman with his interruptions, drawing another body part every time he does it. Other times she’ll draw doodles of his angry face as he tries to make a point. The action itself isn’t important as long as it allows you to quietly laugh away whatever is bothering you. Even if you let loose a giggle at your desk, you’re still keeping things to yourself and dealing with the annoyance in a way that doesn’t disturb anyone else.

8. Sympathize. There is always a chance that the annoying gossip in your office is so focused on the personal lives of others because their own personal life is incredibly dismal and sad. It doesn’t make their trash talking okay, but it does explain why they do it so frequently. Taking a minute to understand that people may be acting poorly because of some sort of personal issues outside of work can allow you to become less annoyed at their behaviors. “Not-Paula Deen’s” gossip has become no more than a distant whisper to me because I’ve seen how awful her personal life truly is. I don’t agree with her behavior, but understanding that she’s miserable most of the time has allowed me to stop being aggravated when I catch her talking about me.

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9. Put them in their place. “Not-Paula Deen” asked me via email to count the number of people on a spreadsheet for her. It was a silly request; the spreadsheet had a total of about 130 people on it, half of which needed to be tallied, and it was something she could do herself in less than five minutes. I will help anyone who needs it, but I won’t allow anyone to treat me like a subordinate when they’re not my boss. I politely told her where to find the spreadsheet as well as emailed it to her so she could count it. She ended up pushing the issue and my actual boss told her to do it herself. Don’t be afraid to politely decline to do menial tasks for people who are feeling a bit power-hungry and wish to make you into their personal slave. Even saying “I don’t think my supervisor wants me assigned to that task, sorry,” will suffice.

10. Look in the mirror. Are you just as guilty as the people in your workplace who you can’t stand? Do you click your pen in and out a hundred times while trying to solve a problem? Is your phone always on speaker with the volume cranked? Sometimes the best way to combat bad behavior is to lead by example. By making yourself a pleasant and polite person, someone people love to work with and be around, you can influence the behavior of others. Whether coworkers are motivated by jealousy of your praise or by admiration of your demeanor and behavior, any steps they take to cut down on annoying habits can be considered a victory. Even if they don’t change, you can at least be proud of yourself for rising above.

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About Jamie C. Baker

“Long time no see. I only pray the caliber of your questions has improved.” - Kevin Smith

Posted on December 5, 2012, in Crazy People, Work and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Picking up my desk phone when a blabbermouth is approaching my office and faking a conversation usually works. However, sometimes when I try that approach with one of the worse offenders in the office – my boss – he’ll sit down in the chair in front of me and wait until I finish my “discussion.” It’s a very awkward situation because he stares at me while I try to create a conversation that sounds real enough so he won’t be able to tell that I’m making the whole thing up. To make matters worse, he’ll sometimes ask what the phone call was about!

  2. With havin so much written content do you ever run into any issues of plagorism or copyright violation? My site has a lot of unique content Ive either written myself or outsourced but it appears a lot of it is popping it up all over the web without my agreement. Do you know any solutions to help stop content from being stolen? Id truly appreciate it.
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