Dealing with jerks and quirks at work

Deborah Sweeney | October 12, 2011 | Comments (1)

Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation. After graduating with a JD/MBA from Pepperdine University, she became a partner in a Los Angeles-based law firm practicing in the areas of corporate and intellectual property law for six years. She then joined the MyCorporation team as in-house counsel, and became General Manager after Intuit acquired the company. In 2009, she acquired MyCorporation from Intuit and is now acting President and CEO.

Ever walked in on a co-worker fork deep in your leftover pasta? Or do you have a cubicle-mate that dresses way, way, way too provocatively for their age? These little office idiosyncrasies may not seem like much when they first occur but annoyances build up and, before you know it, you may blow up at someone for refusing to return your pen.

LinkedIn just released an awesome info-graphic on top office pet peeves, and I thought that it would prove to be the perfect jumping off point for a bit of advice on how to deal with our less than lovable co-workers. After all, I’m sure most office professionals have had to sit through a presentation on conflict mediation, but honestly most of the things that annoy us aren’t worth involving someone from HR. So in the hopes of nipping office conflict in the bud, here is a bit of advice on how to deal with the little quirks that make office life interesting.

Determine if this is just an annoying tic or part of their personality:

I’ve known people that absolutely hate consistent, repeated sounds. Tapping a pencil, clicking a pen, tacking away on a keyboard – these things would drive them up the wall. I never really noticed it, but for whatever reason they could not tune out the little annoyances in their life. And, sometimes, you sort of have to learn to. If you confront someone because they type loudly or cough too much you end up looking like a mad person and, if/when an actual problem arises, people may be less likely to take your grievances seriously. A nice set of earphones and some peaceful music can easily drown out the tics and tocks of co-workers, and simultaneously give you small bit of relaxation time.

But what if it is more than just chewing gum or pen clicking? What if there is that person in the office that is always trying to upstage you, or the person who refuses to do any work? Cases like those warrant a little more action and require you to act as a counterweight. Acting in a positive, proactive manner will do wonders for solving a lot of problems. Credit the up-stager when the situation warrants it, and let the slacker slack as long as you can prove they didn’t carry their weight. You’re essentially letting them be themselves and, usually, the behavioral flaws will correct themselves, be it internally (as a little bit of humility) or from an external force (your boss).

Tolerate them when you can:

There are just some office sins that will forever remain unforgivable. Sure, maybe we can all move past the guy who never brews fresh coffee or the girl that leaves her dirty dishes in the common room sink. But eating someone else’s food from the fridge? That warrants a lifetime of shame and shun, and it is no surprise that it made the top of the American office pet peeves.

When one of your co-workers presents themselves with an idiosyncrasy or five, you have to ask yourself if you can tolerate it. More often than not the answer is yes. Everyone has their little quirks, even you, and part of dealing with other people is just learning to move on and tolerate minor annoyances – if nothing else you’ll have a great story about the guy who would eat smelly cheese at his desk during lunch. But if they are acting in a way that warrants a small bit of conflict, remember to keep it small. You don’t want your stolen sandwich to get hurled across the kitchen in a fit of rage, so expose their misdeed, ask them to stop and try not to talk down to them. Most people may get a little defensive but will end their reign of terror once caught as long as you don’t give them a reason to continue.

Lead by example and, in the meantime, enjoy:

Has anyone ever told you not to take life too seriously or you’ll never get out alive? That little quotable gem works very well when it comes to office quirks. All that comes out of constant worrying over these types of problems are lost nights of sleep and clumps of hair. You will always have little stressors, no matter where you go. The trick is to try and not add to the office stress and lead by example. Is the coffee pot empty? Make a new one. Does your boss refuse to return your e-mails? Pop by their office or send them a quick reminder.

Above all else, remember that nobody is perfect and sometimes all you can do is sit back and laugh. It is impossible to fix everything, so do what you can and try to find humor or joy in what you can’t. One day you may miss these odd people you share an office with, so make memories where you can and find whatever joy is possible in your work.

Tags: co-workers, , jerk, pet peeves, quirks, , work-life

Category: Women@Work

About Deborah Sweeney: View author profile.

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  1. says:

    Great suggestions. We’ve all known someone like that, and we’ve probably been that person tapping a pencil without even knowing it.