Some coworkers just have a natural talent for getting on our nerves. No matter what they say or do, they really get our hackles up. Others just irritate us occasionally, because of the exasperating patterns they keep repeating.
So, what can we do about it? A lot, actually. Here are a few tips to deal with irritating colleagues that tick us off every now and then.
Understand your irritation
Why are some colleagues so annoying? What some psychologists define as “affective presence” is how one person tends to make others feel during an interaction. They suggest that this is a consistent and measurable part of this person’s personality. And yes, it also works on Zoom calls.
You got it right: this “irritating” coworker might tick you off not just because of a specific action or behavior, but because of this elusive affective presence. That means it could be their body language or tone of voice that affects your mood.
Ask yourself what bothers you about this coworker. Is it something they said, or the way they said it? Are you interpreting their tone, their look? Knowing what the real problem is can help you get over it more easily.
Carl Jung’s concept of “shadow self” suggests that there is a part of us we’re ashamed of and try to repress. It’s often something we process unconsciously, but surfaces in some of our actions and reactions. Because of this, we tend to blame others for flaws we find in our own character – especially at work.
Is there a particular thing that you really dislike in the coworker that gets on your nerves? Now ask yourself if this is something you can find in your own character. Chances are, you’ll feel more tolerant with your workmate and their annoying habits if you realize you’re guilty of them too.
Empathy can be a great tool for overcoming these tensions and feeling more at ease around “irritating” people. When we dislike someone, we tend to dehumanize them and consider them as a nuisance rather than a person with thoughts and feelings.
Practice your empathy skills to walk a mile in their shoes. It might help you understand them better and get where they’re coming from. Ask yourself:
What is happening to this colleague right now?
What might they be thinking or feeling?
What might be important to them?
Your colleague might seek constant validation because they’re getting imposter syndrome and lack self-esteem. Your manager might constantly remind you to do admin tasks because they're worried and want to be helpful.
Try to hear what they’re really saying when they’re talking or behaving this way, without judgment. Being a good listener can help you solve potential misunderstandings and see things from a different perspective.
Talk it out
Communication is everything. If this colleague gets on your nerves at work, why not have a conversation with them? And no, we don’t mean coming up to them and saying “I find you really annoying.”
Now that you’ve identified which behaviors of theirs tick you off, be prepared to flag them as they’re happening. Use positive communication to express how you feel calmly and diplomatically.
The “when you [...] I feel [...]” to help them, in turn, put themselves in your shoes. For example, “when you keep reminding me of simple admin tasks I’ve been doing for years without your help, it makes me feel like a child” or “when you give me this look, I feel like I’ve done something wrong and it makes me anxious.”
Talking is not a magical solution. It might take a few conversations and reminders to get through ingrained habits and annoying quirks. Even if they don’t completely go away, though, having that conversation can help you better understand your coworker's intentions and defuse the tension you usually associate with their actions.
Unfortunately, most people have to stick with colleagues who get on their nerves from time to time. And as long as their intentions are good, empathy and communication can help soothe your work relationship. Managing your time together and limiting situations that could lead to irritating interactions as much as possible can also be very helpful.
If they're not the annoying colleague, it might be useful to chat to your manager about what bothers you and try to find a solution together. They can help you communicate your needs in a diplomatic way and encourage more positive interactions in the future.