February 7, 2010
Pest control: Tips to put a stop to a co-worker's annoying habits
It's the chitchat that never seems to end. Or the humming or whistling while you're trying to concentrate. Or the smell of someone's lunch (what is she eating?).
The most irritating or disruptive things about a job may have nothing to do with the work. Sometimes what gets your goat is the annoying habits of a co-worker.
What do you do? Management consultants say you should address such issues if they could end up affecting how well you do your job. Here are some tips on how to deal with disruptive co-workers.
Annoyance or interference?
The first step is to figure out whether your co-worker's behavior is just annoying or if interferes with your ability to do your job. Is the problem really your colleague, or is it your attitude?
Some people may be more intolerant if they are unhappy in their jobs, under a lot of stress or dealing with personal issues. They may be more prone to find something wrong with a co-worker's behavior, says Roxanne Emmerich, a workplace management expert.
"If there is no work problem, then you really need to ask yourself: 'Is this something that I just need to let go?'" says workplace management coach Marie McIntyre, who runs yourofficecoach.com.
Some people need quiet to concentrate, while others embrace noise as part of the creative process. McIntyre says there are physiological differences among people that allow some to screen out co-workers' conversations and other noise. Others, however, hear and notice everything.
If you're distracted by a noisy nearby co-worker, consider using headphones, earplugs or a white-noise machine. Ask to use an empty conference room or office when you need to get a project completed.
You might also ask your boss if you can move to a different desk. Some managers rearrange desks to cluster employees who need quiet in one area and those who aren't bothered by noise in another.
When those steps don't work, it's time for a conversation with your co-worker. Often, colleagues don't realize they are creating problems and are willing to make changes.
Explain to your colleague that his or her behavior is interfering with your ability to do your job. Offer an alternative or work out a compromise, Emmerich says. For example, if your co-worker uses a speakerphone and the noise distracts you, ask him or her to use a headset or a speakerphone in a conference room instead.
The chat doesn't have to be uncomfortable. Make it about work, not personal issues, and frame comments by using "I" instead of "you" to avoid criticizing or offending your co-worker, McIntyre says.
Sometimes the problem is personal, such as your co-worker's chronic cough or pungent body odor.
The management pros say there's not much you can do when it's a health problem such as coughing, sneezing or throat clearing. In such cases, a white-noise machine may help.
If the issue is body odor, you need to be extremely tactful. Management consultants suggest asking your co-worker if you could discuss something that you realize may be difficult to hear. And then explain that you have noticed an odor that is distracting to you.
This technique also could work for co-workers who use too much perfume or cologne.
When to go to the boss
If the disruptive behavior persists after your conversation or the issue is particularly sensitive, you may want to ask the boss for help. And if other co-workers have similar complaints, ask them to join you when you meet with your supervisor. That can help a manager understand that the issue isn't the result of a conflict between two employees.
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