Surviving annoying workmates

By Danielle Wright

Communication is the key to alleviating workplace annoyances. Picture / Getty Images
Communication is the key to alleviating workplace annoyances. Picture / Getty Images

No matter what your industry, seniority or how much you love the people you work with, you'll no doubt have experienced having been annoyed at something a workmate has done in the office.

We've all experienced the loud eaters, the whistlers, the ones who talk on the phone the whole day long in an open-plan office - especially on speaker phone, the ones with different music tastes, the ones with smelly food, or smelly feet, those wearing a gloomy face or the too-perky types.

They're easy to poke fun at, but when you're sitting next to them day in, day out, they can ruin your enjoyment of your job in a big way.

"Little annoyances turning into big problems is the fundamental issue of many of the employees I represent," says Melony Lowe, who left a corporate HR department overseeing 1000 staff to start her own business, The HR Lady. "When different kinds of people come together in one space for hours on end they can really push each other's buttons."

She says it's not always a case of one person being wrong and another being right. Rather, she believes it's just the nature of human interaction and workplaces that there will be tension.

She says that if you replace the workplace with a family scenario, you can see the same things apply, but often without the rules and structure. It's about learning to live with overcoming the tensions.

"I might experience you as abrupt, and you may experience me as a wimp - it's our differences, not our similarities, that cause problems," says Lowe.

"The differences come from our unique personalities and in New Zealand you also have cultural differences, with 189 different nationalities in Auckland."

She describes the "Analyst Bullet Point" types of people, the "Loud Ones Who Take Over the Office", the "Fighters", the "Tree Huggers" and the "Butterflies Flitting Around Not Wanting to Offend Anyone" as some of the types you'll encounter in a workplace.

She remembers one workmate who ate with his mouth open (she had to leave her desk when he did). She tried to remember he wasn't a bad person, he just had a different idea of politeness.

"People often go into emotional mode when faced with something that is annoying them, rather than into solution mode," says Lowe.

"Even though we have our professional persona on, we can still be offended and experience private emotions."

With open plan offices more prevalent, the little annoyances are more noticeable. Lowe believes they can be alleviated through communication. But, she says people are becoming too busy and goal-oriented to communicate properly, which is consolidated by a lack of management skill and training in New Zealand.

"The skills shortage means people are getting promoted to a management position without the technical skills a manager needs," says Lowe, who believes compassion is important when dealing with a person with an annoying habit.

"The person may not have any self-awareness of their annoying habit," says Lowe.

"Talk to them respectfully and with their best interests in mind."

She says it's all about learning how to give feedback and there are many books with tips on how to improve your communication skills, particularly around difficult topics.

These include Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, Easy Peasey: People Skills for Life, and How to Phrase It.

"Talking is not communicating, there are real techniques you can use to improve communication," says Lowe.

"Zappos, the most successful online shoe store ever, teaches every staff member communication skills as a basic course; it's fundamental."

However, though communication can fix most problems, she says there are people who are unreasonable and in that case, it's not the right strategy to deal with them directly.

Instead, her advice is to escalate the matter by going to a manager who can try to keep it impersonal by reminding them of policies, such as the company dress code if their hygiene isn't up to scratch.

"It doesn't have to become such a big issue if tackled respectfully, or discreetly through a manager."

And remember, for all the times you've been annoyed by a workmate, there's probably at least a couple of times you've been the one with the annoying habit, so tread delicately and try to see the lighter side.

- NZ Herald

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