Irritating but Harmless
March 30, 2011 1:05 AM   Subscribe

How do you deal with people you see often and find annoying?

I'm trying to be a better person and as such am looking for suggestions on how to interact with someone who I have to see often, and who annoys me ... for no really good reason.

One of my coworkers that I share an office with annoys me to the point where I get short with her and basically kind of ignore her when we're in the office together. The thing is, she's not a bad person, and is pleasant...I just find her peppy chatter irritating. I also find it irritating that she spends time in the office when not on duty. She hasn't done anything wrong but I feel like I am rude and uncharitable towards her and I can't explain why except that I find her personality irritating (I'm not actually outright rude, just short). Generally I am a pleasant, conflict-avoidant person; friendly, but not talkative except with people I especially like. THere's another coworker that I like a lot and enjoy talking to....which she observes andwhich might make her feel bad (it's a small office).

So my question is, how do you deal (and act friendly)with people who irritate you for no particular reason? Is that even necessary? How do you maintain the same attitude towards different people when you like them to different amounts? Maybe I am over-thinking?
posted by bearette to Human Relations (26 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
"Is that even necessary?"

Yes, especially in a work environment.

In social situations it's not as critical. Some people just don't get along and never will.

That said, I like to remind myself that I'm not that special snowflake I like to think I am. Chances are someone you know finds you annoying, and it's best to make nice as much as possible.
posted by bardic at 1:14 AM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

If others share the same sentiment about the co-worker in question, there's a better chance something could be done. eg, your boss issues a blanket statement to the whole office about being quieter, even if it's only directed at one or two people. But you say you have a small office...

Otherwise, I'm in the same boat as you, even now ("not bad people"/"peppy chatter"). I just can't be direct and tell someone that their behavior bothers me, otherwise I'd feel bad if they felt self-conscious all the time as a result. And it just makes things so awkward day-in and day-out.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 2:10 AM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Earphones - if your office permits. You don't even have to listen to anything, but a visible earphone will make people direct their peppy chatter elsewhere.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:24 AM on March 30, 2011 [5 favorites]

But if you want to be nicer to them, allocate them 10 minutes in which you give them your attention and interact pleasantly with them, and then say cheerfully, "Right, I've got to go back to work." Chances are they won't bug you for attention now that they've had some of it.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:25 AM on March 30, 2011 [12 favorites]

Headphones work a treat for warding off my office blowflies.
posted by teststrip at 2:30 AM on March 30, 2011

I agree with Ziggy, set aside some time at the start of the day and have a nice chat with her. You say she's pleasant so that might be quite fun to do. Then make it clear that you're now working and want to concentrate and have quiet. Headphones sound like a good idea for delineating between talking time and working time.
posted by teraspawn at 2:43 AM on March 30, 2011

How do you maintain the same attitude towards different people when you like them to different amounts?

You aren't against small talk -- you like to chatter with people you like -- but you don't like to chatter with people you don't like. That's normal.

But if you gab to everyone else in the office, you can't very well pretend to be too busy for idle chatter every time she starts talking.

So try to gab somewhere else, not in front of the person you dislike, or wait for her to be out of the room before you yak to the people you like. Just be careful not to make it look like you're talking behind her back.
posted by pracowity at 2:46 AM on March 30, 2011

Look for something to admire about this woman. I find it's much easier to be courteous to the coworkers I regard as fools or bores once I find something about them that I genuinely respect. I still may not like them, but if I can remind myself that they're the single parent of a severely autistic child, or that they faced down the office bully in a manner I've only dreamed of, I can usually summon a lot more patience in dealing with them.
posted by timeo danaos at 3:56 AM on March 30, 2011 [12 favorites]

I pray for them, silently and keep it to myself. Somehow wishing good toward your fellow man, especially the ones who annoy you or even whom you despise, even if your heart may not really be in it, reduces their power over you, their power to annoy, their power to incite your hatred. They become more human and so do you. You don't have to believe in prayer or God to do this, just start asking fate to smile kindly upon them.
posted by caddis at 4:02 AM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

Your co-worker sounds lonely. Otherwise why would she spend time in the office when she doesn't have to? She probably sees you chatting with the person you like and wants that same sort of easygoing friendship.

I know people like this. And I know that it's very hard. But here's the thing: My own little boy is going to have some trouble fitting in sometimes, because of a disability. He's just a preschooler now but I already know that there are times that people will react to him like you do with the co-worker you don't like. He'll make an effort to connect and someone will turn their back on him and then go chat with someone they like better. And he'll be left standing there, feeling about 2 inches tall and wondering what he did wrong.

But could I ask a favor, even though I don't know you? Would you just once in awhile try to smile at this woman, include her in your chitchat, maybe even ask her to take a walk and grab coffee? Make her feel good about that small part of her day. I hope that there are people who will do that for my little guy once he's not so little and cute.

Sometimes it seems like adult life is not so far removed from the playground days. I look back and think about all the times I could have done better. It would have cost me nothing to give someone a smile and a friendly wave, to make someone feel included instead of excluded, to try to help someone feel good about him/herself. The times when I could have and didn't .. diminished me in some way and I regret that a lot.

You don't have to do this but on behalf of my child I hope you and others will try, just once in awhile. Thanks.
posted by Kangaroo at 4:22 AM on March 30, 2011 [59 favorites]

You could try reminding yourself, as mentioned above, that you no doubt annoy some others (perhaps for no good reason), and you would hope they can manage to treat you pleasantly despite their own issues with you.

You can simply remember that this is the moral high road -- being kind and gracious to others, unless they've given you ample reason not to be. And even then, sometimes it's best to rise above.

If moral appeals fail, try this: You never know who she knows, or who she will know, or where she will end up in your company's hierarchy or in your industry. Sometimes the most unlikely people become very successful, or have the ear of the very successful. Strategically, it's a great idea to get along with everyone if you value your job and career.
posted by ROTFL at 4:56 AM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

I work in a school and teach adults how to do things and sometimes I have a colleague or a student that just rubs me wrong for whatever reason and then, like you, I see myself being short with them and get frustrated with myself. Especially with my students, btu also with my collegues I have just told myself that being surly is a non-option. It's not professional and I can do better. I allocate myself five minutes a day [or something] to solving the problem which is me being a grump [not them being annoying, I can't fix that problem]. So I usually will make a genuine effort to connect with those people for whatever my five minutes is, using small talk or sharing a discussion about a recent event, or even the weather.

My feeling is that if I can't have a nice talk with the weather with someone, anyone, anyone at all, I have my own social skills issues to work on [as you say you are working on] so I literally treat it like a job. My job is to not just teach this class, it's to make every student in the class feel like an equally valuable member of the class, even the ones who annoy me for whatever reason. Once my 5-10 minutes is up trying to relate/connect, I consider I've done that job for the day. It's sort of a "fake it til you make it" sort of thing but not surprisingly I find that once I'm trying to connect with these people without going to my default "Ugh annoying!" mindset, I often wind up enjoying it, finding some commonality that I didn't know we had, find a way that talking to them is interesting and valuable to ME, something I totally wouldn't have gotten to otherwise because I was too busy being annoyed. Good on you for trying to adjust your outlook.
posted by jessamyn at 6:49 AM on March 30, 2011 [10 favorites]

For me, the people that annoy me are usually people that I just can't really talk about things with, because they are people that are more, umm i dunno at the risk of sounding like some elitist prick, people that watch CBS every night? I mean, someone was out there watching two and a half men. So I try to come up with a couple of simple small-talk sentences I can say to those people that are kind of funny, but easy to digest. For example "that thunderstorm last night scared the shit out of my dog, she was climbing all over the place" OK, maybe don't say 'shit' if you're not in a shit-friendly work environ.

I might even ask a quick small talk question and try to remember the answer, to get a feel for what I could use later, but you risk getting some long awful answer that will just annoy you more, so be careful about questions, bag of worms they might be. And if this person is the type that don't get body language and start talking about god knows what in the longest most inefficient sentences possible, don't be afraid to interrupt and smile and say "I'm really sorry, I gotta get ready for this meeting, catch you later", these people probably spend their whole life talking peoples ears off and won't think anything of it.

And, if they annoy you because you suspect they are the douchebag type, just check the sports headlines and drop some casual judgmental sports hyperbole, and then listen to whatever they say for about 90 seconds and then then say "yeah, I hate that! catch you later" and go to your office. You could also casually complain about some massive service provider that everyone uses like cable, phone, mail delivery, etc.

Dealing with annoying people can be handled with just a little bit of discipline and planning and a whole metric shit-ton of patience, you just have to find your own sick twisted system and tweak it to work for you.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 7:08 AM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

You don't have to be her pal but I think it would be in your own best interest to be as professional as possible.

And someone wise once told me, sometimes, our opinion of others says more about ourselves than it does about the other person. You can't control her, but you can control what you think or feel.
posted by PsuDab93 at 7:09 AM on March 30, 2011

No, you can't always control what you think and/or feel. But you can control the way you act and what you say. A few minutes of generic small talk, a smile, and a "gotta go" will usually do the trick, and help you feel less annoyed.
posted by Dolley at 7:32 AM on March 30, 2011

You're at work to do a job, not entertain other people, unless your job is in the circus or something. So no, I don't think you're overthinking this.

Try smiling and nodding, but not giving any verbal responses. If you talk, she can use what you've said to talk back to you some more. You're letting her know that you've heard her, but not giving her anything else to latch on to.

Could you maybe rearrange your desk so that it faces a different way? Blame the overhead lights shining on your VDU or something when she asks why.

If it's starting to impact on your work, then speak to your manager about moving offices or something. ;)

As a general response, try to remind yourself that whatever is going on with that other person, it's not about you. If someone is rude to you, they might just be having a bad day. That's about them. If someone cuts you up on the road, they might be in a rush. That's about them. Try to take a step back from the situation and ask yourself why they're behaving the way they are, because chances are, it's not about you.

I've recently finished reading The Art of Happiness at Work, by the Dalai Lama. There's a chapter in there that I found helpful, with regards to dealing with other people.
posted by Solomon at 7:33 AM on March 30, 2011

Some people are more verbal; me, for instance. Try to appreciate her good qualities and respect the fact that she has a different way of interacting with the world. When you need to stop paying attention and focus on work, just say "I have to focus on this email now." Use headphones. Getting along with co-workers is really important, and can be pretty difficult.
posted by Mom at 8:01 AM on March 30, 2011

I too have a son that like Kangaroo's, is gonna not fit in sometimes. As was I when I was younger. So I have some sympathy with this co-worker, but I also know that it can be very difficult to become part of what feels like the emotional life support for someone who can be lonely and needy, especially when you're at work and the object of the game presumably is to - work.

Is your relationship with your friend (the one you find it easier to get along with) such that you could say "Hey, we need to a) make it a point to be nice to this other person and b) avoid wasting work time and making her feel excluded by being obviously a pair that is closer than she is"? Work at work, socialize with the one you're comfortable with off-duty. Make plans by text or e-mail in some way that she's not constantly seeing that you're making those plans. It wouldn't kill you to include her every once in a while, either. If you can't come out and say it, at least model this behavior and lead by example. If part of the appeal of your friend, or part of what your friend enjoys, is excluding this other person, be aware this is gonna turn toxic real quick, but in that case you're better off without them.

Are there work tasks you can do with her that allow her to talk at you without disrupting or distracting from the job at hand? Bend over backwards to include her in those.

And then, having done that, you might find two things:

- she's less needy and distracting, as others have suggested.
- you could put on the headphones and/or politely tell her you're doing something that needs all your attention, without feeling guilty.

I believe that work should be about work (someone's paying you for your time, after all), and I also know that you can't solve all of someone's problems, especially if they have a difficult personality, but I also believe in Karma, and that it can be a bitch sometimes.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:45 AM on March 30, 2011

I sit next to a very nice person who drives me batshit insane with her constant chatter, compulsive sniffing, loud phone conversations and stories about her kids (the most special genius children on the planet OMG!). To complicate matters, she's newish to the company and awkward socially, plus she has to compete with other people (including me) who have been here longer and are more skilled at interpersonal matters. Add the fact that she's got a minor hearing impairment and the whole mess becomes nearly unbearable for her and for me.

So, I made an agreement with myself. I need to work on being a more compassionate person anyway, so I made it a project. I won't say snarky things about her. I won't let her see how tense she makes me when she interjects something into a conversation, bringing it to an awkward stop.

It has made a world of difference, not in her conduct. In fact, she just gets weirder all the time. The difference is that I no longer hate myself for being short with her. I'm much less tense and stressed because I know I'm doing my part to keep relations between us (and by extension the whole division) on the up-and-up.

Is it easy? Hell no. I struggle with it all the time. I'm a total elitist and I struggle with my desire to correct people who don't think like I do (by which I mean 100% correct at all times). I know I need improvement, and I need to learn to let go of changing other people.

Best of luck to you. I think that by asking this question, you're showing that you have compassion for your coworker. That's the first step.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 9:05 AM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think allocating a few minutes for chit-chat at the beginning and end of the day, plus visible headphones in between, will help a lot. She gets some attention and a chance to uncork all the babble that's been building up during the day, and you get the feeling of a little control over the situation: the chit-chat is on your schedule, not random interruptions.

I think we all feel better when we have a sense of control over things. Problems are much less annoying/scary/overwhelming when we know we can do something about them. Try to exert a little control over your situation, and I think you'll find your coworker a little less irritating.
posted by Quietgal at 9:52 AM on March 30, 2011

A friend of mine recently wrote a pertinent short story.
posted by tangerine at 11:00 AM on March 30, 2011

I work with someone like that person, I think we all have someone like that at work or school. I see this person like someone I have to deal with for a reason; I have something to learn or develop, in my particular case is "tolerance". Everyday is an exercise of tolerance and the more I practice more patience and tolerant I become...
Do you have something to learn???

By the way Kangaroo got me on tears...
posted by 3dd at 12:09 PM on March 30, 2011

I have the peppiest chatter in my office. The other day, he shouted, out of nowhere, from his office, "HEY, it's nine months until Christmas!!"

I wanted to bang my head against my desk and stick paperclips in my eyes, because I hate Christmas and I hate everything.

How I deal with it is I try to imagine him, and everyone else that pisses me off, as kids. And then I remind myself they have feelings, and it sucks to be treated poorly. I pay attention to times when my own feelings get hurt by someone being a dick, and I watch my own behavior in that context. I also summon up a woman I know who is the paragon of professional niceness and ask myself, "What Would Cheryl Do?" WWCD?
posted by amodelcitizen at 1:07 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

The strategy I use is just to ignore them until I feel like ripping my own eyeballs out, and then exiting the room and punching something.

The repeated impressions of The Simpsons' SAX-A-MA-PHONE and the Dalek's "Exterminate!!" through a plastic cup really did it for me today.
posted by midnightbarber at 2:21 PM on March 30, 2011

I have often had success by sitting down and listing all the things that annoy me about the other person. Then contemplating the truism that "we hate most in others the things we hate in ourselves." It's humbling, but true.

Other times, it's just a case of bad chemistry, or too-close quarters. The funny thing is, when I think back about these situations, I kind of miss the person. I remember having been unbearably annoyed at the time, and complaining mightily. But in hindsight, they seem kind of endearing.

After all, these are people whose worst quality was that they wanted to be my friend. They wanted me to dispense some of my attention - just a tiny bit of it, really. They wanted that little daily dose of validation.

There are a lot of things to hate about people. The abusers, the shouters, the animal-haters, the perpetually-vitriolic. It seems a bit silly to me that instead, I chose to hate people who simply wanted to be liked.
posted by ErikaB at 3:02 PM on March 30, 2011 [7 favorites]

Thanks for all the answers. They were thought-provoking and made me feel sufficiently guilty as well :).

Just want to clarify as well, others in the office chat plenty with this woman- it's not as if it's me and another person always amongst ourselves. She's not an ignored social misfit by any means, just very chatty. But I do need to, and plan to, work on being more inclusive and tolerant in any case.
posted by bearette at 6:28 PM on March 30, 2011

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