We don’t evolve much beyond a grade school caste system. We grow up, enter the workplace, supposedly mature and revert to the same social constructs we tried to fling off as kids: the workplace’s cool cliquey group, the brains of the office, the mean girls, the goobers.
This article is dedicated to the latter group: The workplace goobers. From a performance standpoint there’s little to complain about, but personality-wise, they’re the well-meaning employees who are just a little bit socially awkward and socially annoying. If you’re nodding your head in agreement, it’s probably because you know who the goober is at your job. If you’re not nodding your head in recognition, then be warned: The office goober just might be you.
Whether you’re the one doing the annoying or the one being annoyed, follow these tips for more workplace harmony.
For the Annoying …
1. Watch what you say. Figure out your work-to-chat ratio and err on the work side. You should be social in the office, but not so much that you’re siphoning productivity. Also note that sometimes it’s not about how much you talk, but how you’re doing it and what you’re talking about. “People write to me about what to do with close talkers a lot,” says Richie Frieman, the Modern Manners Guy for QuickandDirtyTips.com and author of “Reply All … and Other Ways to Tank Your Career.” “It’s the person in the office who stands too close, who invades your space.” Also be careful of revealing too much personal information, either about your life or the lives of your colleagues.
2. Be careful what you send. The way you communicate electronically could be just as annoying as verbal communication. With office email, keep in mind the reply all field should be used only when all really do need your reply. Alexandra Levit, author of “They Don’t Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something’s Guide to the Business World,” suggests you avoid it. “People really overuse that field, and it gets you into trouble.” The carbon copy field, or CC, should be filled with recipients who need information from the email, but who do not necessarily need to take action themselves. Dawn Rosenberg McKay, career planning expert for About.com, says you also want to be careful when populating this field. “One real problem with using the CC is that it clogs up people’s inbox. Liberally using this field starts to affect productivity and performance, and that can be annoying to people as well.”
Blind carbon copy, or BCC, is used to furtively inform recipients of an action within an email, and it’s the devil’s field. “The thing that’s really problematic with that field is that it’s usually used to convey something negative or something that you don’t want to be public knowledge,” Levit says. “But the fact that it’s on email means it is public, and if whomever was included as a BCC doesn’t realize they were a blind copy and decides to reply all, then everyone will know what was going on.”
3. Blend in. Shake things up with innovative ideas and make an impression with your work ethic. But when it comes to office culture, adapt lemming behavior: Observe how the other staff interact, and follow suit. If emails don’t ricochet back-and-forth after hours and on weekends, then don’t be the gadfly who insists on corresponding with non-urgent emails on a Saturday. If most people in the office leave their cubicle to answer personal calls, then avoid being the sole employee who has a long and loud personal phone powwow in an office common area.
4. Be a team player. “It’s frustrating when a co-worker steals credit for work they didn’t do,” McKay says. “Or if someone is always running to tell the boss what’s going on in the office.” You want to earn your boss’ trust and respect, but you’re on track to lose the respect and trust of the colleagues who most affect your day-to-day job satisfaction and potentially, your success. “Shirking off work or delegating your responsibilities to someone else will also be a problem,” Levit says.
For the Annoyed …
1. Have compassion. “There are two types of annoying workers. One is completely naive, not malicious and just doesn’t get it. To put it bluntly, he’s a doofus,” Frieman says. “That might sound harsh, but with that person you can reach a resolution, because he probably can easily take a critique and will want to take the steps to get along with you better. The other type of person has a built-up ego, is aware of their actions and personality, and doesn’t care how they affect others. That guy is being malicious.”
2. Allow three strikes. Peter Bregman, leadership adviser and author of “18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done” has what he calls a rule of three. “If someone does something that I find annoying or disturbing the first time, I rarely say anything,” he says. “The second time I make note of it because it could be a pattern and not an aberration. I may or may not do or say something at that point, depending on what the offense is. But by the third time, you have to take an action to resolve the problem. Otherwise, you’ll become annoying yourself by constantly complaining about your situation instead of taking steps to fix it.”
3. Be careful whom you talk to. Venting your frustrations with other colleagues is counterproductive and will only make you feel better temporarily. Instead, confide in someone with the agency to change your situation. “People almost always would rather go to their boss with a complaint about a co-worker instead of going to the co-worker themselves,” Bregman says. “And almost always a boss will rather that you resolve those situations yourselves. The goal of a good manager is to build an independently capable team.” If speaking with your boss, frame your complaint in the context of how your co-worker impacts performance; otherwise, you run the danger of looking like a whiner and nothing more.
4. S often the blow . If the issue you’re having is really just a personality clash, then it might be best to speak with your co-worker one-on-one without involving a supervisor. Be constructive and direct, but honest, Bregman says. “It’s worth the risk to say, ‘May I share some feedback with you?’ Most people will say ‘yes,’ so you can then preface what you say by expressing the fear you’ve had to say anything at all,” he says. “Calling what you’re about to say ‘feedback’ makes it more constructive, and expressing your fear for how the conversation will go will help them to trust you more.”