Join 3,433 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


My annoying coworker is turning me into a rageaholic
September 28, 2011 6:28 PM   Subscribe

How can I stay calm and productive when I have the most annoying coworker in the world?

I used to be a calm, easygoing person. I have a great job, but I am completely miserable at work due to working in close proximity with someone who is very hard to ignore.

I work in cubicle land at a telecom company and my coworker "Cecilia" is on the other side of a divider from me. She is on the same team as me and she is about 15 years older than I am. Here are some of the things she does that are annoying:

1. She has a habit of sniffing up buckets of snot every 2 minutes or so (not exaggerating.) She doesn't take kleenex when people offer it to her. It's a very loud horking sound. The problem is that she's just very loud in general. She makes very loud eating sounds, loud slurping of soup, smacking lips, eating with mouth open. She eats all through the day.

2. She makes about 10 phonecalls a day to her boyfriend and has very loud conversations, basically ordering him around at length and giving him updates. "How is your morning? Yeah. I just got out of a meeting." Her phonecalls are much louder than anyone else's and it's like she wants people to overhear.

3. She regularly makes outbursts of laughter to herself. I think she must be reading something funny on the internet.

4. She is frequently late and leaves early. I know this shouldn't be any of my business but it bothers me.

5. She frequently interrupts people at our team meetings and tells me how to do my job when she is not my boss.

She told me once in an offhand way that she has Aspergers, I thought it was a joke at the time but now I think it wasn't.

Anyway, it's got to the point where all of these noises are driving me insane. I used to work really hard, now I spend most of the day in a rage, not being very productive. It bothers other people around in the area, and they will roll their eyes at me, but no one ever does anything about it.

My boss seems to greatly value Cecilia and relies on her quite a bit. My boss's office is on another floor and I don't think she is aware of the extent of the problem.

How would you deal with this situation? I haven't spoken to Cecilia directly about this, as I find it very hard to communicate with her. I would rather go to her instead of my boss, though.

This has been going on for months and months - I have been dealing with it mostly by ignoring her and wearing headphones, but it's got to the point where I am living with a lot of suppressed rage and I think it's starting to affect my physical and mental health. How can I let it all go and not let these things bother me?

I have read other questions about annoying coworkers, and I am currently wearing my noise-cancelling headphones nearly all the time (I love them, they are great.)

Thank you for any advice, I am desperate.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (15 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Are you still hearing the noises through the headphones? If so, there is a White Noise app for iPhone and I think Droid too that is PERFECT. You can combine sounds to block out certain kinds of noises, so if anything is slipping through that would help. Plus that app puts me in some weird productive mental zone.

I can't address the other stuff except to ask if you could be moved further away from her? You wouldn't have to badmouth her to ask, you could even say a lot of nice stuff about her and paint it purely like it's your deal and you don't want to make Cecelia change anything.

That wouldn't solve #5 but would #5 alone be bearable?
posted by Nattie at 6:42 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ask to move to a different work station. When asked for a specific reason why, say you're having difficulty concentrating and feel that your work is suffering as a result. If pressed to elaborate further, simply re-state this in a different way - you've been working with headphones to block out extraneous noise and stimuli, but it's not working the way you'd like it to. You feel that moving to a different work station feels like the next logical step toward helping you do your best work. You don't need to get into a long diatribe to your boss about Cecelia, particularly because your boss considers her an asset rather than a liability. Make it a genial, reasonable request for a slight adjustment to your environment to maximize your productivity.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 6:46 PM on September 28, 2011 [23 favorites]


I agree with asking to be moved to a different area. I had a similar problem, which I tried addressing with my own annoying coworker. She took it very well and improved for a week, then went straight back to her normal habits. I knew really it was up to me at that point. I went to my manager and I explained the situation. In my case, I was honest (but tactful). If you don't want to be honest, it might help to find another reasonable excuse.

My old workstation was, physically, more pleasant than the one I was moved to. But I was happier immediately, regardless.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 6:53 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cecelia isn't your problem, let go of her arrival and departure times. The noise, that is. Either ask to sit in another area or get noise canceling or in-ear noise isolating headphones (or earplugs). For noise isolating headphones, I recommend Etymotics. They can block out the noise of a subway.
posted by zippy at 7:47 PM on September 28, 2011


Ask to be moved. If you don't want to incriminate this annoying character directly, just say that the lighting is giving you cluster headaches, or you are allergic to that particular patch of carpet.
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:08 PM on September 28, 2011


You probably can't change your coworker, so ask to be moved. I'm sorry - this is a craptasticalicious situation. I loathe extraneous noise, so I feel you.
posted by thatone at 8:23 PM on September 28, 2011


I had a boss and co-worker who were VERY loud talkers. I found that putting on some headphones with white noise piping through reduced their voices to unintelligible droning in the background (like the teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoons).

I just used regular earbuds, but I'm sure noise canceling headphones with white noise will work even better to drown out the sounds coming from Cecilia.
posted by reenum at 8:41 PM on September 28, 2011


P.S. You can find MP3's of white noise online for free. The file I had was 28 seconds long, but I just repeated it on a loop.
posted by reenum at 8:42 PM on September 28, 2011


1. She has a habit of sniffing up buckets of snot every 2 minutes or so (not exaggerating.) She doesn't take kleenex when people offer it to her. It's a very loud horking sound. The problem is that she's just very loud in general. She makes very loud eating sounds, loud slurping of soup, smacking lips, eating with mouth open. She eats all through the day.

2. She makes about 10 phonecalls a day to her boyfriend and has very loud conversations, basically ordering him around at length and giving him updates. "How is your morning? Yeah. I just got out of a meeting." Her phonecalls are much louder than anyone else's and it's like she wants people to overhear.

3. She regularly makes outbursts of laughter to herself. I think she must be reading something funny on the internet.


Contact your boss. Let him or her know that you'd like to be moved, because as much as you know she's a valuable and important member of the team, she happens to have a lot of personal mannerisms that drive you crazy. Note that you realize it might be you and not her who has the issue, but that even noise-canceling headphones aren't helping you sufficiently with the problem, so you really think being in a different location will be the most expedient solution. Assuming you get moved, make sure that when she asks why you're moving, you have agreed with your boss on what you'll say -- this will help your boss realize that you're not trying to be an insensitive clod.

4. She is frequently late and leaves early. I know this shouldn't be any of my business but it bothers me.

This is none of your business and should never be brought up, ever. That's your boss's responsibility. The only exception to this is if you and she are working directly together on a project, and her attendance habits are negatively impacting your ability to get work done.

5. She frequently interrupts people at our team meetings and tells me how to do my job when she is not my boss.

Pay attention to her behavior towards other team members: does she do the same thing to them? If so, it is likely just her personality and nothing about you personally, and you're free to ignore her bad advice (but don't shoot yourself in the foot and ignore good advice just because you don't like the messenger.)

It will help if you go to your boss with "There's something I want to ask you about: other than you, is there anyone on our team who is considered my team lead, manager, or to whom I should be deferring on judgement calls for other reasons?" This isn't an excuse to bitch about her, just to get a clear answer. If your boss presses you as to why, you can just say "someone offered some advice to me recently that I didn't think would be good to follow, and I was wondering whether I should consider it as advice from a peer or a directive from a senior. So I really appreciate you taking a moment to clear things up for me!"
posted by davejay at 8:52 PM on September 28, 2011


perhaps it doesn't go without saying that if she only does this to you, and if your boss says she is your team lead or similar and you should be deferring to her advice, then you might need to start thinking about changes...and at that point, telling your boss point blank that you're having a really hard time dealing with it and you want their advice might help catalyze change. Only do that if the alternative is you deciding to leave, however. Also, when you talk to him about it, do not mention that other people have issues with her; that's up to them to raise, and will at best make you look as if you're exaggerating, and at worst your boss will ask other folks, they won't back you up, and you'll be the troublemaker in your boss's mind from that day forward. Stay focused on "I have a problem, and I need your help in solving it so I can improve my productivity."
posted by davejay at 8:55 PM on September 28, 2011


My boss seems to greatly value Cecilia and relies on her quite a bit.

He doesn't have to share a room with her. She sounds disgusting.

Change jobs or change desks, but get away from her. Maybe find another person who would be willing to swap desks with you. You might get a shittier desk but in a quieter place.
posted by pracowity at 1:47 AM on September 29, 2011


I sit near a loud chewer. Simplynoise.com has been a lifesaver.
posted by Lieber Frau at 2:50 AM on September 29, 2011


I once shared an office with someone similarly annoying. What worked for me was reciting to myself one of the principles of Unitarian Universalism: "I affirm the dignity and worth of every person." (Of course, if you don't actually take that to be true, it won't work.) But over time I found it much easier to ignore him without getting worked up about it.
posted by mchorn at 4:09 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't defend all of her behavior (I too have a cube neighbor who makes regular calls to a SO... wtf, people, let it go for 8 hours) but as a sniffler, I can tell you that I have been sniffling uncontrollably for a few years now, and I have tried the Kleenex (doesn't do much if it's all post-nasal drip, which mine is), I have tried allergy medication, and I am continuing "make it stop" experiments under the direction of my doctor. I know it annoys people near me at work and I try really hard to be as quiet as possible when I have to sniff but I literally cannot stop and no, your offer of a Kleenex does not help. So if it was driving someone around me nuts and interfering with their ability to concentrate on work, I'd totally understand if they asked to be moved and would not be offended; I'd just feel bad that I couldn't make it easier on them myself. (Same goes for obvious noise-canceling headphones)

Fortunately despite my sniffling I can still manage to chew with my mouth closed; it sounds like Cecilia has some different problem that prevents her from being able to breathe through her nose comfortably while she's eating. Definitely gross but at least know that she's not doing it just to piss you off.
posted by olinerd at 5:14 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Cecilia, please could you talk more quietly? Thanks."

"Cecilia, please could you chew more quietly? Thanks."

etc.

My guess is that she does not know her behaviour is annoying. She may also not have full control over the volume of her speech and/or not be fully aware of it; but in any case, I would bet that she doesn't know it's a problem.

There are plenty of workplaces full of non-Aspies where behaviour like that is 100% the norm, and I am in no way being sarcastic. Try being the only Aspie in a roomful of cow-orkers like that, and being the only person who is annoyed by it; I speak from personal experience. Again, I say that not to be sarcastic, but to point out that social rules are not consistently enforced, people do what they can get away with, and because of this you cannot actually assume that Cecilia knows or should know how annoying her behaviour is since (so far, and as far as she knows) she gets away with it.

Also, Bose noise-cancelling headphones plus white noise.
posted by tel3path at 6:26 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


« Older If you write a poem about some...   |  Cat is weird. She's constantly... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.