Right attitude to annoying co-workers?
March 7, 2010 2:12 PM   Subscribe

Right attitude to annoying co-workers?

I work as an IT personnel at a small office in a foreign country in Europe. I am there only since 12 month, and never been there before in my life neither have I speak the language. A friend of me has suggested me this work place that pays much better then in my origin country and I've decided to give it try.

Most of the workers treated me amazingly nice, and never showed any kind of impatience because of the language or cultural gap between us. they take h everything with humour and light attitude, otherwise i wouldn't have survived even 1 month.

I really like my current work place and my life in this country in overall, and this would be a great routine for me for the next years to come, unless this one female co-worker mentioned above who simply ruins my day for the last month. She has a certain attitude and personality that drives me crazy, and the very though in my mind that I wasn't able to deal with her, makes me restless all day, which reflects the quality of my work (that were down with 50 percent at least) and my willingness to come to work in the morning (been late once a week at least since)

Although I could simply write that she is a bit crazy, I would like to write a few examples of the daily clashing. For some reason It's kind of hard to put a finger the things she say or does that are annoying, so if it will sound ridiculous to you, it's probably because i wasn't clear enough:

- She almost always must have the last word even my intuition in my voice is directing to the end of the discussion. Or even worse, must finish her conversations with a Question mark that awaits my OK answer, even when the answer is crystal clear and no need to ask. Maybe it's because I'm a fast thinker but consistent fruitlessness talk takes me out of focus completely and I get angry that i have to answer a boring OK for unnecessary questions time after time.
- Has an an amazingly annoying tone of voice, either she is begging or shouting. never in the middle.
- Part of my job is to fix her PC problems. when she calls me for problems, I must take control on her PC in order to fix it and in my case (because of the language difficulties) in order to correctly understand her problem i must look on the screen so I can put in my head together what she is tacking about and give her the right solution. with all of the other 30 workers it works magically great and sweet! only with her it's a war every time I need to access her PC. shouting samples: "NO NO DON'T TAKE CONTROL NOW, I am v.v. busy right now". How does a person expect me to help them if they don't let me help? not to mention that I must leave everything I do when she calls me and come to her desk immodestly when she calls me because "she is very busy" as usual.

If I would be in my natural surrounding or my native language speakers, It would probably be much easier for me to find the way around her.

Again, the main thing that is bothering me is that I must play according to her fiddle and I don't have the right response to her strange behavior. and as i mentioned, unlike this specific Person, relations with all other workers are great and even fun. but this affects me in a strange way to not to be nice even to them, when I start to imagine what would happen to me if they will start to treat me like them

I would appreciate any insights that comes to your mind.

(English is not my first language either, so sorry for any mistakes\misspellings etc....)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total)
If you think your coworkers share your opinion of this woman, I'd talk to them about it, since you get along well with them. At the very least, you'll be able to get it off your chest.
posted by mpls2 at 2:26 PM on March 7, 2010

Do you have a boss? Ask your boss, in general terms, without mentioning her name, what you ought to do when a user asks to skip the queue and be dealt with immediately. Then, when she demands to have the work done immediately, you can tell her whatever your boss said. It may be that your boss will tell you that you work for the users and that you should drop everything to fix their computers. If that's the case, plan out your day accordingly and know that you'll be interrupted. But your boss may allow you to tell her that she'll have to wait, and then you'll have your boss to back you up when she complains.
posted by decathecting at 2:28 PM on March 7, 2010

I wish you had asked a more specific question so I could be sure I'm answering it, but my insights are: She thinks she is more important than you. She wants to show you this by being unavailable or busy or shouty when she needs your help. She doesn't like needing your help because it makes her feel less powerful. She doesn't like needing help because she is insecure.

You cannot fix her or change her behavior. She will always be this way.

You can only affect how much her behavior bothers you. You can choose how you respond to her. You can choose how much time you spend worrying about her.

If she calls you for help, but doesn't want you to help right then, you can just say in a cheery way "OK, call me back when you are ready for me to help! Bye!" and hang up. This kind of "OK, Bye!" is a great way to end a phone call on your terms. If you practice this and have it ready I think it will help. I agree it is strange that she calls for help but doesn't want help. It's OK for you to let this be her problem, and you can let her decide when she's ready for help. Meanwhile, you don't need to worry about her.

Sadly I think she might think being weird and controlling is easier when she's dealing with you, because you have a little difficulty with language. This is another way she uses you to feel powerful. I hope you can continue enjoying your work with others in the office in spite of this. This is childish of her and it makes her look bad. It does not make you look bad.

Many offices have one person like this. You aren't alone. We had one at my office and she was eventually fired for not being able to get along with anybody. They are toxic because they encourage what mpls2 is suggesting: that you complain about her behind her back and possibly form a clique based on hating/excluding her. That can only lead to more drama and I suggest you avoid it. You want to be above the drama, not wallowing in it. This may involve pretending that it does not bother you. Pretend with all your heart! If a coworker complains about her, just make a waving motion and say "Oh her? I don't know - I just don't let little things bother me!"
posted by fritley at 2:49 PM on March 7, 2010 [7 favorites]

Some of these aspects could be addressed with her. For example, you could explain to her that you'd be glad to help with her computer once she is away for an errand as you need to be able to operate the computer in order to fix it. If she absolutely must have the last word, maybe call her on it playfully. You could say with a smile, "Well if you have to have the last word then I guess we're done here." Just making her aware of what she is doing might make her rethink it. She might not even realize she is doing that.

I don't know what you can do about her tone of voice. That's just annoying and something you'll have to deal with but maybe you could change your perspective of the situation. Try to put yourself in her shoes - what makes her act this way? She may have a ton of issues herself - insecurity, anxiety, fear. Sometimes it helps me to see people's vulnerabilities to let go of my frustrations with them. She might be under a lot of stress and doesn't realize how horrible she is coming across. Planting seeds in her head while remaining nice and collegial may result in subtle changes in your interactions with her. Best of Luck!
posted by icy at 2:57 PM on March 7, 2010

Regarding her tone of voice? The one that ends with a question mark? I bet it rises in pitch at the end?

It's a vocal mannerism. Very common where I come from. She's not asking a question and her statements, despite their question mark tone at the end, do not require a response.

If you are unfamiliar with this manner of speaking and instinctively feel like a response is required, learn to just ignore it or at best, just nod your head. I know that may be hard if her first language is not your own, but really, she is not asking for a response. Personally I think this way of talking indicates a lower level of elocution experience and indicates a lack of self-esteem/self-awareness (which ties in with the other issues you have with her).
posted by Kerasia at 4:07 PM on March 7, 2010

She has a certain attitude and personality that drives me crazy, and the very though in my mind that I wasn't able to deal with her, makes me restless all day, which reflects the quality of my work (that were down with 50 percent at least) and my willingness to come to work in the morning (been late once a week at least since).

This worries me, because it's going to reflect on you as an employee no matter what its cause. You don't mention the country in which you're working, but you do mention that you haven't lived there before and that you're not fluent in the language. It's highly possible that there are things about your workplace culture which you're not picking up on and which are causing dissension between yourself and this particular co-worker.

You haven't mentioned where she fits within the power structure of your organisation and that's quite important in terms of resolving this issue. In many nations how one communicates with others is very much determined by the relative status of those involved in the dialogue and you would adopt a totally different strategy in dealing with a peer than with someone who is more powerful within the company than yourself.

If I would be in my natural surrounding or my native language speakers, It would probably be much easier for me to find the way around her.

It sounds like the language barrier is frustrating for both of you - you mention it as the reason you need to take control of her PC in order to identify the problem (implying that someone more fluent in her language would not have to do so).

You also mention that her communication style annoys you (tone of voice, intonation etc). I wonder if she's actually being intentionally abrasive or if the conversational style of her native language is one which would be quite confrontational in your own language. For instance, native German speakers often sound quite abrupt and rude to me when speaking English because they construct their sentences in a way which a native English speaker would use if they intended to be offensive or dismissive.

Taking formal conversational lessons in the country's language may help you detect more subtleties within the speech of others. While it may be "crystal clear" to you that you have given a final statement, the way in which finality is indicated in speech varies dramatically between languages - as does the meaning of rising intonation at the end of sentences.

If you're taking time off work or the quality of your work has declined, then you need to look at whether this job is worth the stress it is causing you - and to realise that those are the actions of an unreliable employee and ones which may in themselves jeopardise your employment.

Many nations have migrant resource centres. Because nations have such different workplace cultures and expectations, running both this problem and your proposed plan of action past a neutral person who is familiar with both might help you clarify what are reasonable expectations in the workplace of your host country. The best approach to this problem in my country or in your own has the potential to be a total disaster somewhere where workplace values and expectations may be very different.

By your own admission, your current job performance is poor and you need to get it back up to expected standards. Even legitimate grievances carry less weight when they come from non-performing employees - the combination of bad performance and complaining about other employees can mark you as "too much trouble" to management and jeopardise your job. You cannot change your co-worker, but you can change the degree to which you are contributing to the problem between you.
posted by Lolie at 4:36 PM on March 7, 2010

Why oh why do some people treat IT staff so badly?

I might say.. you are making it harder for me to fix your PC right now. Please be patient and let me fix it. If this is not a good time for me to take it over and fix it, I'll come back at (say what time, in half an hour maybe?) and take it over then. Please let me work. The reason it is taking so long to fix your PC, is that you are not letting me work right now. Just insist on this politely. And you don't have to respond with "OK" if she's clearly talking on too long and expects it, if you don't want to. You could just be quiet. And if she gets upset, just politely say, excuse me, I am trying to work and I need to focus right now.

People sometimes get impatient and just cannot understand that it takes trial and error, sometimes, to fix computer problems. Or they cannot understand why you don't know instantaneously what is wrong. Or they think they have to order you around. I have no idea why this is, but it's happened to me & to lots of IT people I've worked with, it's tough.
posted by citron at 6:16 PM on March 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

The way I'd deal with it is, "sorry I'm very busy right now, fill-out this request form". "I'll get to you as soon as I can", or "let me know when your not busy and I'll take a look". Throw the attitude right back at her. If that doesn't work, talk to HR, they'll talk to the manager on your behalf. As above, you can't fix other people's personality profiles.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 6:40 PM on March 7, 2010

Anon, I also work in IT, and my first reaction when reading your question was amazement that there's only one person like this! I work a help desk for a fairly large company and I have a List of people who when I see their name on the caller ID I just cringe and it takes all my will to answer the phone.

Anyway...I don't mean to downplay your problem, sometimes all it takes is one person to get under your skin and ruin your day. My advice is to be as polite as possible when dealing with her, but also be direct if her behavior is making it more difficult to fix her PC. If you need quiet to concentrate then it's perfectly okay to ask for that, just ask politely. Say something like, "I'm apologize, I really don't want to ignore your questions but I really, really need to focus on getting this fixed for you, and to do that I need to be able to think quietly."

Is it possible for you to work on it when she's not around? Personally I hate working on people's computers with them sitting right there anyway, because I too have a hard time concentrating while having to make small talk and answer questions. (I can't imagine how difficult that must be while also having to do it in another language!) Maybe you can talk to her and say something like, "I know you're so busy it's hard for me to get on your machine. Maybe we can schedule a time for me to work on it while you are at lunch, in a meeting, etc. this way it doesn't interrupt your work flow."

There's a certain kind of person who really, really gets stressed out by computers and technology, and most of the time when they are getting difficult, it really has nothing to do with you, but the fact that they are dependent on something they don't understand. Often these people are otherwise high-functioning and used to being in control, and now they have to give the reins over to someone else and that is hard for them.
posted by cottonswab at 7:30 PM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

"NO NO DON'T TAKE CONTROL NOW, I am v.v. busy right now" means "I have to close Facebook, three chat sessions and Freecell before I can let you take control". They sound a very annoying coworker indeed. Just try to be consistent, fair and know that you're doing the best you can for the company's IT.
posted by scruss at 7:43 PM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

One suggestion I have is, Do Not talk to your co-workers about this in a negative way. This can cause you trouble. Don't complain about this woman to them or your boss. Try to keep things positive.
posted by fifilaru at 8:40 PM on March 7, 2010

Some people talk louder when someone doesn't understand. You'll see this especially with Americans, talking to someone with poor English. I've done it myself! It's stupid, but human.

Some people also have a habit of thinking anyone that doesn't speak the same language they do, especially in their own country, is stupid, and will treat you that way. Maybe they don't realize they do that, and would feel bad if they realized they did it. Maybe they are just mean and don't care. For some, it is especially frustrating to have trouble communicating, so they become annoyed. I see that a lot, since I live in Switzerland and don't speak Swiss German at all, and even my proper German isn't good.
posted by Goofyy at 4:21 AM on March 8, 2010

One thing to consider is you mentioned that due to your language difficulties you needed to take control of her machine. Consider that she may legitimately be very busy. Having to interrupt your work to have IT fix something is annoying. That she needs to waste additional time due to your language limits frustrates her. That's not an excuse to behave badly, but it's worth understanding her viewpoint.

Are you sure you aren't bring your own gender or cultural biases to the problem? This may be a red herring, but I kept getting a sexist vibe here and I'm not someone who goes looking for that. I think it's specifically that you don't like her tone and you find it annoying to answer her questions because you're such a fast thinker. You're writing this as though she isn't entitled to ask you questions, when you're IT support.

You asked what you could change. Start behaving like a professional with a job to do. Disliking one client is not an acceptable excuse for tardiness or diminished productivity. Lateness and poor work quantity is a good reason to dismiss you. If you'd like to continue working there, then you need to have the maturity to do your work even when you have a culture clash or difficult coworker.
posted by 26.2 at 9:07 AM on March 8, 2010

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