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13 Actually Effective Ways To Handle All Of Your Pain In The Ass Coworkers


Relationships with coworkers can be tricky. You spend an enormous amount of time around them, but you generally don’t get to choose who they are. There’s professional pressure to maintain reasonably good relations with them, which means that you can’t always speak your mind — and yet their behavior can have a huge impact on your quality of life at work, and sometimes on your work itself.

Given all of this, it can be tough to tell a coworker when they’re doing something that frustrates or annoys you.

But so often, just approaching the problem in the right way will get you the results you want without introducing the kind of tension you might be fearing. Here are some of the most common ways your coworkers might be driving you crazy — and what you can say to them without torpedoing the relationship.

1. Your coworker makes too much noise.

Whether your coworker is playing music without headphones or taking too many calls on speaker phone, noisy coworkers can become truly aggravating over time. You can address it this way: • “Hey, I’m finding it hard to focus when I can hear your music. Could you try using headphones?” (To soften this, try: “I actually really like your music, but it makes it hard for me to concentrate.” It’s hard to get defensive when someone is complimenting you.)• “You probably don’t realize this, but you have a habit of drumming your fingers on your desk for much of the day. I’ve tried to block it out, but it’s pretty distracting. Would you mind putting down something soft to lessen the noise it makes?”

Katrin Davis / Angle News

Whether your coworker is playing music without headphones or taking too many calls on speaker phone, noisy coworkers can become truly aggravating over time. You can address it this way:

• “Hey, I’m finding it hard to focus when I can hear your music. Could you try using headphones?” (To soften this, try: “I actually really like your music, but it makes it hard for me to concentrate.” It’s hard to get defensive when someone is complimenting you.)

• “You probably don’t realize this, but you have a habit of drumming your fingers on your desk for much of the day. I’ve tried to block it out, but it’s pretty distracting. Would you mind putting down something soft to lessen the noise it makes?”

2. Your coworker is unbearably negative.

If you’ve listened to a coworker vent in the past, it can feel tough to ask them to stop now. But it’s okay to do that! You can frame it in terms of your own quality of life at work: • “I know you’re pretty frustrated about things here. I honestly don’t have the same concerns, but it’s starting to pull me into a place of negativity too. Can we try to rein in the negative talk about work and talk about other things instead? I’d really appreciate it.” • “I’m finding that talking about work frustrations so frequently is starting to impact how I feel about coming to work every day, and I don’t want that! I’m trying to be more positive and focus on the things I like here instead.”Or you can ask your coworker this the next time they complain: • “So what do you plan to do about it?”

Katrin Davis / Angle News

If you’ve listened to a coworker vent in the past, it can feel tough to ask them to stop now. But it’s okay to do that! You can frame it in terms of your own quality of life at work:

• “I know you’re pretty frustrated about things here. I honestly don’t have the same concerns, but it’s starting to pull me into a place of negativity too. Can we try to rein in the negative talk about work and talk about other things instead? I’d really appreciate it.”

• “I’m finding that talking about work frustrations so frequently is starting to impact how I feel about coming to work every day, and I don’t want that! I’m trying to be more positive and focus on the things I like here instead.”

Or you can ask your coworker this the next time they complain:

• “So what do you plan to do about it?”

3. Your coworker asks nosy questions.

If your coworkers ask nosy questions about your love life, your health, or even your reproductive plans, you’re not obligated to answer just because they’re asking. Some options: • “That’s awfully personal!”• “Why do you ask?”• “I’d rather not talk about my dating life.”• “I’d rather not get into it at work — that topic is pretty personal to me.”• “I’m not comfortable talking about that.”• “Whoa, getting pretty personal there, huh?”

Katrin Davis / Angle News

If your coworkers ask nosy questions about your love life, your health, or even your reproductive plans, you’re not obligated to answer just because they’re asking. Some options:

• “That’s awfully personal!”

• “Why do you ask?”

• “I’d rather not talk about my dating life.”

• “I’d rather not get into it at work — that topic is pretty personal to me.”

• “I’m not comfortable talking about that.”

• “Whoa, getting pretty personal there, huh?”

4. You were rude to someone.

If you lost your cool with a coworker, you should apologize. Apologizing doesn’t mean that the person wasn’t being frustrating or even rude, but you’re still responsible for your own behavior — and in most cases acknowledging that you snapped and apologizing for it will make you look a lot better (including with any bystanders who might have witnessed it). Use this formula: • “I want to apologize for snapping at you earlier. I was frustrated with how our conversation was going, but I shouldn’t have used that tone with you, and I apologize.” (Of course, if you find yourself regularly needing to apologize for being rude, that’s a red flag that something bigger is going on that you need to resolve.)

Katrin Davis / Angle News

If you lost your cool with a coworker, you should apologize. Apologizing doesn’t mean that the person wasn’t being frustrating or even rude, but you’re still responsible for your own behavior — and in most cases acknowledging that you snapped and apologizing for it will make you look a lot better (including with any bystanders who might have witnessed it).

Use this formula:

• “I want to apologize for snapping at you earlier. I was frustrated with how our conversation was going, but I shouldn’t have used that tone with you, and I apologize.”

(Of course, if you find yourself regularly needing to apologize for being rude, that’s a red flag that something bigger is going on that you need to resolve.)

5. Your coworker keeps making judgy comments about your snacks.

If you work with someone who comments on your food — like “Oh, being naughty today?” or “Lighten up and have a cupcake for once” — trying saying: • “Let’s avoid diet talk here — it’s not good for anyone.”• “Do you know that you comment on what I’m eating nearly every day?”• “Hey, can you stop commenting on what I eat? Thank you.”• “We all get so much pressure about what we eat. Let’s not bring it into the office too.”

Katrin Davis / Angle News

If you work with someone who comments on your food — like “Oh, being naughty today?” or “Lighten up and have a cupcake for once” — trying saying:

• “Let’s avoid diet talk here — it’s not good for anyone.”

• “Do you know that you comment on what I’m eating nearly every day?”

• “Hey, can you stop commenting on what I eat? Thank you.”

• “We all get so much pressure about what we eat. Let’s not bring it into the office too.”

6. Coworker doesn’t respond to your emails.

If you work with someone who’s unresponsive to emails, you might just need to talk in-person or pick up the phone. But first you can try: • “I’ve noticed that I often don’t hear back from you about requests I send in email. Is there something you’d like me to do differently when I need something from you?” You can also propose a course of action that you’ll take if you don’t hear back by a certain time. This isn’t practical in every case, but often it’s fine to say: • “If I don’t hear back from you by Thursday, I’ll plan to do X so that we stay on schedule.”

Katrin Davis / Angle News

If you work with someone who’s unresponsive to emails, you might just need to talk in-person or pick up the phone. But first you can try:

• “I’ve noticed that I often don’t hear back from you about requests I send in email. Is there something you’d like me to do differently when I need something from you?”

You can also propose a course of action that you’ll take if you don’t hear back by a certain time. This isn’t practical in every case, but often it’s fine to say:

• “If I don’t hear back from you by Thursday, I’ll plan to do X so that we stay on schedule.”

7. Coworker is a know-it-all who tries to tell you how to do your work.

If you work with someone who has an opinion on everything and loves to tell you how to do your job better, your best bet is to ignore the person as much as possible. Phrases like these will help: “Thanks, I’ll think about that.” “I’ve got it covered, but thanks.” “I feel good about how I’m handling this, but I’ll let you know if I end up needing input.” Keep it short and breezy and don’t engage.

Katrin Davis / Angle News

If you work with someone who has an opinion on everything and loves to tell you how to do your job better, your best bet is to ignore the person as much as possible. Phrases like these will help:

“Thanks, I’ll think about that.”

“I’ve got it covered, but thanks.”

“I feel good about how I’m handling this, but I’ll let you know if I end up needing input.”

Keep it short and breezy and don’t engage.

8. You’re allergic to your coworker’s perfume.

If your coworker’s perfume gives you headaches or makes it hard for you to breathe, you need to say something. The key is to make it clear that you’re not passing judgment on the fragrance or implying that your coworker is doing something rude; the scent just happens to be one that triggers your allergies. For example: • “Your perfume is lovely, but it seems to be triggering my allergies and giving me headaches. I’m so sorry to ask, but would you be willing to leave it off at the office?”• “I’m so sorry about this, but I'm highly allergic to some fragrances and your perfume seems to be setting off my allergies. I know this is a lot to ask, but would you be willing to help me out by not wearing it in the office?”

Katrin Davis / Angle News

If your coworker’s perfume gives you headaches or makes it hard for you to breathe, you need to say something. The key is to make it clear that you’re not passing judgment on the fragrance or implying that your coworker is doing something rude; the scent just happens to be one that triggers your allergies. For example:

• “Your perfume is lovely, but it seems to be triggering my allergies and giving me headaches. I’m so sorry to ask, but would you be willing to leave it off at the office?”

• “I’m so sorry about this, but I’m highly allergic to some fragrances and your perfume seems to be setting off my allergies. I know this is a lot to ask, but would you be willing to help me out by not wearing it in the office?”

9. You’re being pressured to donate money toward a coworker’s gift.

To some extent, chipping in small amounts of money for birthdays, marriages, and other big occasions every now and then is part of working in an office with other people. But if you’re being pressured to donate more than you can afford or want to give, it’s okay to speak up and say no: • “I’m sorry, it’s not in my budget right now.”• “I’m stretched pretty thin right now, but I’d be glad to sign a card.”• “I can donate $5, but my budget won’t let me contribute more than that. If others feel the same, maybe we could buy a less expensive gift or just get a card?”

Katrin Davis / Angle News

To some extent, chipping in small amounts of money for birthdays, marriages, and other big occasions every now and then is part of working in an office with other people. But if you’re being pressured to donate more than you can afford or want to give, it’s okay to speak up and say no:

• “I’m sorry, it’s not in my budget right now.”

• “I’m stretched pretty thin right now, but I’d be glad to sign a card.”

• “I can donate $5, but my budget won’t let me contribute more than that. If others feel the same, maybe we could buy a less expensive gift or just get a card?”

10. You need to tell a coworker you don’t want to be friends outside of work.

When a coworker wants a closer friendship than you’d prefer — like hanging out outside of work, calling you in the evenings, or otherwise moving the relationship from friendly coworkers to real-life friends — responding politely is tricky. Relying on hints and cues sounds like a cop-out, but in this context it can be kinder if it gets the message across without hurting the person’s feelings: • “My schedule is packed right now, so I’m not able to hang out outside of work.”• “I’m not able to email much during the day because I’m usually on deadline.”• “Sorry, I’m swamped right now and can’t really talk.” But if hints and cues aren’t working, it’s kinder to be more direct: • “I like going to happy hour sometimes, but for me it’s a once-every-few-months thing, and I’m not up for it more often than that.”• “I got your message asking me to hang out last weekend. To be honest, I like to keep a separation between my work life and my outside-of-work life, so I don’t do much socializing with coworkers. But that art show you were going to sounds really cool, and I hope you had a great time!”

Katrin Davis / Angle News

When a coworker wants a closer friendship than you’d prefer — like hanging out outside of work, calling you in the evenings, or otherwise moving the relationship from friendly coworkers to real-life friends — responding politely is tricky. Relying on hints and cues sounds like a cop-out, but in this context it can be kinder if it gets the message across without hurting the person’s feelings:

• “My schedule is packed right now, so I’m not able to hang out outside of work.”

• “I’m not able to email much during the day because I’m usually on deadline.”

• “Sorry, I’m swamped right now and can’t really talk.”

But if hints and cues aren’t working, it’s kinder to be more direct:

• “I like going to happy hour sometimes, but for me it’s a once-every-few-months thing, and I’m not up for it more often than that.”

• “I got your message asking me to hang out last weekend. To be honest, I like to keep a separation between my work life and my outside-of-work life, so I don’t do much socializing with coworkers. But that art show you were going to sounds really cool, and I hope you had a great time!”

11. You’d like a coworker to stop texting you outside of work.

If a coworker is blowing up your phone with texts when you’re not even at work, here are two ways to ask for it to stop: • “Getting texts in the evening is making it hard for me to disconnect from work. Would you hold these until it’s the work day? I’d appreciate it!”• “I try to unplug from work once I’m home at night. If you need to send me something after work hours, would you send it to my email rather than texting? That way I’ll see it when I’m back in work mode. Thank you!”

Katrin Davis / Angle News

If a coworker is blowing up your phone with texts when you’re not even at work, here are two ways to ask for it to stop:

• “Getting texts in the evening is making it hard for me to disconnect from work. Would you hold these until it’s the work day? I’d appreciate it!”

• “I try to unplug from work once I’m home at night. If you need to send me something after work hours, would you send it to my email rather than texting? That way I’ll see it when I’m back in work mode. Thank you!”

12. You accidentally trash-talked someone on an email they were cc’d on.

If you’re reeling from the gut punch of realizing you just sent an email complaining about a coworker to that very same coworker, take responsibility and apologize. It’s going to be awkward for both of you, but it’s the right thing to do and it’s going to be less awkward than letting it fester for weeks or months. For example:• “I need to apologize to you for the email I just sent. My comment was unkind and I’m embarrassed by it. I’m very sorry for what I said.” If your trash-talking was rooted in a legitimate work concern that you haven’t addressed with the person directly, this might be the time to suck it up and do that:• “I need to apologize to you for the email I sent earlier today. I made an unkind comment about how you handled the X project. I was blowing off steam, but it’s no excuse. The reality is, I was frustrated by how late the assignment came to me and I wished I’d had more advance notice. But I should have talked with you directly about that, not complained to someone else.”

Katrin Davis / Angle News

If you’re reeling from the gut punch of realizing you just sent an email complaining about a coworker to that very same coworker, take responsibility and apologize. It’s going to be awkward for both of you, but it’s the right thing to do and it’s going to be less awkward than letting it fester for weeks or months. For example:

• “I need to apologize to you for the email I just sent. My comment was unkind and I’m embarrassed by it. I’m very sorry for what I said.”

If your trash-talking was rooted in a legitimate work concern that you haven’t addressed with the person directly, this might be the time to suck it up and do that:

• “I need to apologize to you for the email I sent earlier today. I made an unkind comment about how you handled the X project. I was blowing off steam, but it’s no excuse. The reality is, I was frustrated by how late the assignment came to me and I wished I’d had more advance notice. But I should have talked with you directly about that, not complained to someone else.”

13. You got drunk at a company party.

If your coworkers saw you dancing on tables / slurring your words / ranting drunkenly, the best thing to do is to confront the situation head-on: • “I’m mortified about my behavior at the party on Friday. I didn’t realize that I’d had too much to drink, but clearly I did. I’m so sorry if I made you or anyone else uncomfortable, and I won’t be drinking at company events in the future.” Also, if there’s an easy explanation for what happened, like that you hadn’t realized you were drinking on an empty stomach, it can be smart to mention that too, so that people have some context for what happened.

Katrin Davis / Angle News

If your coworkers saw you dancing on tables / slurring your words / ranting drunkenly, the best thing to do is to confront the situation head-on:

• “I’m mortified about my behavior at the party on Friday. I didn’t realize that I’d had too much to drink, but clearly I did. I’m so sorry if I made you or anyone else uncomfortable, and I won’t be drinking at company events in the future.”

Also, if there’s an easy explanation for what happened, like that you hadn’t realized you were drinking on an empty stomach, it can be smart to mention that too, so that people have some context for what happened.

This article is adapted from Alison Green’s new book, Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work.

Read more:

• The #1 Thing I’ve Learned About Work After Reading 100,000 Work Advice Emails

• 23 Workplace Horror Stories That’ll Make You Say “WTAF?????”

• 15 Tips For Sounding Much More Professional At The Office



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