Diplomacy 101: Dealing with Annoying Coworkers

Difficult coworkers are a fact of the workplace. Here are some effective strategies to deal with each irritating personality type you’ll encounter over the course of your career.

Everyone has “that” coworker. Maybe it’s the person who asks nosy questions at the water cooler, or the complainer who contaminates the office with distraction and negative energy. Whatever his specific character flaw, every office is bound to have at least one challenging individual. You might even be seated next to him.

Often, however, these “annoying” people aren’t even aware of their own irritating habits, and they aren’t doing them intentionally. Just remember: most people aren’t striving to be the worst coworker ever, like this guy was. They’re just being themselves.

Rather than lose your temper at the offending character, here are some ways to manage each particular type of annoying coworker with grace and empathy.

The Slacker

This creature is far too up-to-date on Facebook’s trending topics and types more on his phone than on his computer. The Slacker may deflate a productive atmosphere, but typically his petulance is harmless. It’s usually best to ignore his YouTube video marathons as long as they’re not impacting your own ability to get work done. However, if the situation escalates and you’re forced to do extra work to cover for the Slacker, then you’ll have to speak up. First, speak to your coworker directly. If the nonstop texting doesn’t cease, then approach your boss to address the issue.

The Negative Nancy

Some people just always see the glass half empty. Whether it’s the new office furniture or the date of the holiday party, this person always finds something to complain about. If you’re the manager of a cranky person, it’s best to address her attitude head on: negativity is contagious and corrosive to a good team atmosphere. Try to mitigate the problem through empathy. If you’re a coworker, the best tactic for offsetting a Negative Nancy’s destructive attitude is to arm yourself with a sense of humor. At the very least, remember that it must take a lot of energy to be so cranky all the time.

The Loud One

Maybe he’s excited. Maybe he’s just blissfully unaware of the world around him. For whatever reason, this employee doesn’t realize that his speakerphone conversations or club-volume music may be bothering the people around him. The easiest way to deal with the Loud One is through gentle communication. Simply ask him, point blank, to turn his phone or music down. We guarantee that you’ll be the office hero for speaking up.

The Talker

The Talker always has something to say, even if it’s not a convenient time for you to listen. Often, this type doesn’t pick up on cues that you’re trying to exit the conversation. Even if you’re friends with the Talker, her latest long-winded story may arrive just as you’re scrambling to finish a project. A good strategy is to enthusiastically ask to postpone the discussion until your deadline is met, because you can’t wait to hear what she has to say. Instead of relying on bodily cues, be assertive in saying why you’re unable to talk now—but are interested in continuing the conversation later.

The Office Gossip

News can travel fast within the workplace—and the Office Gossip is the person shepherding it along. The Office Gossip gets a thrill from having a little bit of dirt about everyone. Whatever this week’s latest dish may be, it’s best to simply not engage with this type. If they ask you an invasive question, don’t hesitate to let them know that that’s a personal matter, and you’d rather not talk about it. Although engaging in gossip may be tempting, it’s not worth jeopardizing your career for.

The Know-It-All

Incessant hand-raising during meetings? Check. Acting like the authority on things that don’t concern them? Check. Sounds like you’ve got an office Know-It-All on your hands. This coworker frequently offers unsolicited (and belittling) advice on how you can do your job better, or what you’re doing wrong. The less you acknowledge their misguided advice, the less likely it is that they’ll pipe up in the future.

There’s always going to be someone who annoys you in your workspace. While every “type” requires a slightly different strategy, it’s always best to be kind—and direct. If the behavior persists, take comfort in the fact that if you’re annoyed, surely there are other people in the office cringing too.

This post originally appeared on Incentive Magazine.

The content writers at BigSpeak Speakers Bureau are Experts on the Experts. They hold doctoral, masters, and bachelors’ degrees in business, writing, literature, and education. Their business thought pieces are published regularly in leading business publications. Working in close association with the top business, entrepreneur, and motivational speakers, BigSpeak content writers are at the forefront of industry trends and research.