Jim did it again.
He drank all the coffee and didn’t brew a new pot.
You scoop a few grounds into the filter, and return to your desk un-caffeinated and edgy to the sound of Sarah tapping her foot on the floor—like a woodpecker who just found a fresh Pine tree. You want to tear out your hair.
“Why can’t my coworkers be normal?!”
Cursing under your breath, you don some headphones and try to focus. But you’re fuming. Is there another way? How can you deal with colleagues who are rude, annoying and just don’t get it?
There is a solution. And it starts before you even step foot in the office.
Summon your inner zen master and whip up some mantras
Zen, mantras and coworkers? What could those possibly have in common?
They all deal with how you view the world. And that starts at home, with a heavy dose of quiet and self reflection.
In Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he talks about the importance of having values—values help guide your everyday decisions so you can live your most purposeful life. Mantras work in a similar way.
Basically, you program a belief into your brain by repeating it every time you encounter the situation you want to change.
For example, one of my mantras is Give people the benefit of the doubt.
When I first implemented it a half decade ago, I repeated this mantra every time I was tempted to criticize. I’d take a breath and tell myself there’s probably a reason for this person’s behavior I’m unaware of.
Now these thoughts are automatic. If a coworker is annoying, perhaps he or she lacks interpersonal skills, is having a difficult time at home or is dealing with some personal issues. The truth is, we don’t know why someone acts the way they do. So why judge?
Feel free to use my mantra, or try one of the options below:
- Show more compassion. This person is another human being, just like me.
- There is no need to complain. How can I improve things?
- Look for the good in an apparent “bad” person or situation.
After you’ve chosen a mantra, the next step is to gain some perspective.
Zone in on the annoying behavior
Imagine a 2-year-old throwing a tantrum in a super market. We’ve all seen it. In fact, we all probably were once that 2-year-old.
Does the outburst define the toddler?
Does it define you, however many decades later?
Of course not.
An annoying behavior is one aspect of a person during a specific time and place—not who the person is.
In the book Crucial Conversations, the authors recommend to start with the facts. When you encounter an annoying coworker, pinpoint the specific behavior that’s bothering you. Name it. See the behavior for what it really is, rather than creating an emotionally-charged story you fester over.
Maybe your coworker talks loudly on the phone a few times a week. Maybe she likes to rave about her baby or chews gum loudly.
Yes, these behaviors in and of themselves can be annoying. But surely they aren’t happening all the time. They are one facet of the person and not who they are at their core…which brings us to the next point.
Take the dude out for happy hour
It’s hard to be annoyed at someone when you’re sharing good conversation over beers.
Not a drinker?
Well, whether you go for sushi, martinis or donuts, the food or drink you devour is not the point. Instead, it’s discovering what you have in common. These similar interests broaden your perspective of your coworker, proving they’re a bit more human than expected.
You’ll realize that, “Hey, this person is kind of like me.”
For me, basketball is a common interest that has helped me see another side of so-called troubled coworkers—from a colleague who was a reported thief, to another that publicly offended my entire office, and others who disagree with my political beliefs.
It’s hard for me to hate another basketball fanatic.
And once we connected over our love of the game, none of these people were as bad as they first seemed.
So what do you have in common with that annoying coworker?
When all else fails…
Sometimes annoying coworkers are from another generation, cultural background or are just on another wavelength. In this case, decide whether you should talk with them about their behavior, or avoid them.
How do you know which is best?
If you constantly complain behind their back, or still feel annoyed after trying the steps above, it usually means you should talk.
Confronting a coworker about their annoying behavior doesn’t mean you need to be a dick. Nor should you sugarcoat the issue. Instead, be constructive.
When talking with them, respectfully mention the behavior, explain why it bothers you and then ask if they could change it.
Use “I” statements that focus on how the behavior affects you.
Instead of saying, “Sara, your radio is really loud and annoying. Can you shut it off?”
Say, “Sara, I have a big project that I’m trying to complete and the sound of your radio is making it hard for me to focus. Would it be possible for you to turn the volume down some?”
If your coworker gets defensive, make your intentions clear that you’re not trying to hurt his or her feelings, but instead describe how you’re trying to improve the work space, or your ability to work. Then offer a few additional suggestions on how to resolve the issue.
Most importantly, stick to the facts. Don’t make personal, emotional comments that can be viewed as offensive.
A blissful workspace begins with you
Annoying coworkers aren’t the real problem.
Instead it’s how we react to them because, ultimately, we’re in control.
The 4 steps above put you in the driver’s seat. Which is why some serious self-reflection is a good starting point.
The goal isn’t just to change an annoying coworker into a more pleasant person, but to transform yourself into a more compassionate, solution-focused human being.
And that begins with you.
When you focus on changing your perspective and behavior first, Jim’s coffee lapses and Sarah’s foot tap-a-thon become manageable, minor issues you can resolve. Because Sarah and Jim are no longer adversaries, but people just like you…
And perhaps even friends.
What’s more, your relationships will improve not only in the office, but in every area of your life.
You won’t feel stressed and annoyed all the time. And you’ll enjoy both work and life more. Which can open doors to career advancement, new romances, a more fulfilling family life and new experiences.
The possibilities are limitless.
And a blissful workspace is just the beginning.
So set aside some time for reflection today, and transform not only the way you view your coworkers, but also the world and ultimately yourself.