How to Deal with Coworkers' Irritating Behaviors like an Adult
At a dinner party I attended, people got into a lively discussion about irritating behaviors they experienced with coworkers. Laughter ensued as everyone cited the quirks of their respective workmates: knuckle cracking, hair twirling, nail biting, whistling, foot tapping, crunchy snack chewing, and on and on.
I asked if any of them had ever pointed out the irritating behavior to the offender. None had. That’s typical. It’s also understandable: No one likes to have this kind of awkward conversation, especially when it’s with someone you have to face every day. Sounding off at a jerk in the car ahead of you is one thing—a passing interaction with someone you’ll never see again. But coworkers are something else.
Some people deal with annoying behaviors at work by leaving the offender an anonymous note. Their reasoning, apparently, is that it’s a way to let the person know of the annoying behavior and to urge its cessation while avoiding the awkwardness of a face-to-face encounter.
The messages of some such note-leavers are unkind or even cruel, much like the offensive anonymous comments some people leave on blogs, product review sites, and other online forums. Still, even a thoughtfully worded anonymous note leaves the recipient unable to ask clarifying questions and can foster a feeling of paranoia due to not knowing who wrote the note.
But maybe there’s a middle ground between tolerating the aggravating behavior and leaving an anonymous note. Maybe, at least in some instances, it’s possible to approach the person and, in a light-hearted, empathetic, positive, forgiving manner, be direct and explain that the behavior is annoying. Perhaps something like, “I know you like to crack your knuckles, but for me, it’s like fingernails on a blackboard. Could I ask you to do it just a little less, or if possible do it when you’re away from your desk?” Or, “I know you love those snacks, and who can blame you, but it’s hard for me to concentrate when you eat them. Would it be possible for you to chew a little more quietly?”
Alternatively, a short, polite note—which you sign—might just do the trick. Some people simply don’t realize their behavior is annoying and might discontinue it or do it less if they knew. So why not give them a chance? If the person is someone you otherwise get along with, it’s possible that you have more influence over the behavior than you realize. And in addressing it, you’d be modeling how to deal with annoying behaviors.