How to Cope With Annoying Co-Workers

The talker, the singer, the laugher. How to confront annoying colleagues.

ByTory Johnson via via logo

March 5, 2007 — -- Sometimes it's the little things that drive us bonkers at work. You know -- the gum snappers, loud laughers and constant chatterers. In other offices, it's the people who leave food to rot in the refrigerator or the employees who heat up stinky lunches in the microwave.

At one company I visited,, the employee gripe was aimed at CEO Albert Aimers. His offense: Parking his Mercedes in two spaces unlike the 400 other cars in the lot. When I pointed this out, Aimers was good-natured and recognized that it wasn't fair for his doors to be protected from dings while everyone else had to squeeze into one space. He promised to use a single spot from that day forward.

This and other annoying habits at his California office are representative of more than 1,000 e-mails we received on this topic. Since I can't travel around the country like the Super Nanny mediating disputes, here are some ways co-workers can handle them on their own.

Be candid, not catty. It's better to handle the issue rather than let it drive you berserk. The goal is to be honest, but not brutally so. You don't have free reign to nitpick. Be focused and professional.

Create a gripe group where everyone comes together once a month with permission to say what's on their minds. We tried this method at and it worked well: Everyone felt safe in saying something because the spirit and tone were friendly. If you can't get the group together, try it one on one.

Avoid personal insults and focus on performance. It's up to you to be careful not to turn your complaint into a confrontation. As my mom always says, "It's not what you say, but how you say it." Avoid personal attacks at all costs.

When someone makes a mess of the microwave, don't say, "You're such a pig." Instead, try saying, "To keep the microwave clean for everyone, all of us must pay attention to wiping it down after each use. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case, so I'd appreciate it if you'd try to be more diligent about this."

Another way to handle it is by focusing on your performance. Do this by flipping it around and taking the onus off their behavior and instead on how it impacts your ability to do your job. Try, "It's nice that you're so happy, but I'm having a hard time concentrating with all the laughter around here." This is better than, "Your ridiculous laughter annoys the heck out of me!" That may be what you're thinking, but saying so won't bring about peace.

To the co-worker who just won't leave your cubicle, avoid telling him or her to shut up and get lost. Instead say, "If there were more hours in the day, we could chat more, but I've got to buckle down and get my work done." No one can argue with that at work.

Be patient. You may very well be teaching old dogs new tricks and new behavior. Expect to have to remind someone a couple of times before seeing a change. Annoying habits can be hard to break, so don't expect overnight miracles.

Tory Johnson is the CEO of Women For Hire and the workplace contributor for "Good Morning America."

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