At some point, everyone has experienced an annoying coworker — that colleague who, intentionally or not, drives you up the freaking wall. But here’s a terrifying possibility: What if the annoying coworker is YOU? What if you’re annoying your coworkers without realizing it?
If you’re a decent human, you probably already try to be considerate of the people around you. But even with the best intentions, it’s easy to have blind spots about your own behavior, and to do things without thinking that mess up other people’s work flows, get on their nerves, and disrupt the harmony of the workplace. I’m not talking about the giant “NOs” (such as stealing food) that everyone should recognize as rude and inappropriate off the bat. I’m talking about the many things that a generally nice person could do that would unintentionally rub other people the wrong way.
To be clear, I’m not trying to push you into panicked paranoia about what other people think of you, or suggest that it’s your job to make sure that no one is ever, ever annoyed by you. At a certain point, other people just have to learn to deal with your quirks, just as you deal with theirs, and if you have coworkers who are constantly annoyed by everyone around them, then maybe they are the ones who need to rethink their approach to life.
That said, it is your job to try to practice a little self-awareness, read the room, and reflect on how your behavior might affect other people. You spend a large percentage of your waking life with your coworkers — it’s worth taking the time to be the best colleague that you can. Here are a few of the ways that you could be getting on your coworkers' nerves:
1. Being too chatty.
It’s great that you want to be friendly with your coworkers, but be sure that you don’t speed past “friendly” and hit “hugely distracting” instead. If your coworkers seem as eager as you are to shoot the breeze, then go for it, but try to be aware of the signals they are sending you. Are they still looking at their computer screens and typing as you talk? Are they looking at the time? Are they answering you in single syllables? If so, take the hint and dial back your chatter. And if you’re ever unsure about whether your conversation is welcome or not, just ask. A simple, “Do you have a minute to chat?” should be enough to go on.
2. Smelly food.
Some foods that smell wonderful when they’re cooking in your kitchen at home smell horrible when you reheat them in the office microwave. And it’s important to remember that strong smells that appeal to you — like popcorn, for instance — may be off-putting to the people around you. Try to steer clear of foods that might bother coworkers with sensitive noses.
3. Gchat overload.
You and your work friends may be obsessed with Gchat (How better to look like you’re working when you’re really talking about The Bachelorette?), but try not to send messages to the point that your coworkers can’t get any real work done. The key is to not demand instant replies. If you send a non-work-related message and don’t get a reply, don’t keeping sending messages — instead, assume that your coworker is busy and will reply when he or she has time.
4. Not giving people your full attention.
Multitasking may make you feel like you’re getting a lot done, but it can get in the way of productive interactions with your coworkers, who have legit reasons to be annoyed if, every time they try to talk to you about a work issue, you keep writing emails and texting. Give people your full attention. If you’re not in a situation in which you can give someone your full attention (because, say, you have a deadline, or you’re currently chatting with your boss online about another work issue), ask if he or she can wait until you’re done.
5. Listening to music too loudly on your headphones.
A lot of people say that listening to music while working helps them focus. I’m one of them; especially if there are other distracting noises going on, strapping on my headphones can help me tune out the rest of the world and get to work. But it’s not fair to distract other people in your own attempt to avoid distraction — which is exactly what you’ll be doing if you listen to music so loudly that your coworkers can hear it through your headphones.
It’s easy to simply not be fully aware of how loud your music is, but it’s your job to try to find out. Either take off your headphones to test out how loud the music is, or ask your coworker if he or she can hear it. If it’s audible outside of your ears, either turn down the volume, or invest in headphones that will shield the noise from other people.
6. Telling other people how to do their jobs.
If your coworker is new or asks specifically for your help, then don’t be shy about offering advice. But in other situations, be careful about overstepping; the advice that you see as helpful may seem patronizing to others. Instead of always jumping in with unsolicited explanations of how a task should be done, try to read the situation. If you honestly think someone needs help, but you’re not sure, just ask, “Do you need any help with that?”
7. Coming into a coworker’s cubicle without asking.
In a work environment in which everyone shares the same office, separated by cubicles or simply different desks, people can feel very protective of their personal space, and won’t take well to having you walk into their cubicles or propping a hip on their desks without asking. Of course, some coworkers may love having you stop by to chat, but it’s important to always check that you’re welcome first.
8. Stealing food.
I mentioned this one above, but I listing it here because stealing other people’s food — especially the lunches they bring from home — is an absolute “NOPE.” I actually hesitated about including it on this list, because it doesn’t really fit into the category of “Ways You Don’t Realize You Are Annoying.” If you’re stealing food, you KNOW you’re being annoying, and you’re choosing to do it anyway, which officially makes you a jerk. So don’t do it!
9. Leaving food in the fridge for way too long.
At most work places, it’s everyone’s job to make sure that the refrigerator doesn’t turn into a storage unit for moldy items that may once have been identified as food. It’s a total jerk move for someone to take your (fresh) food out of the fridge, but it’s pretty inconsiderate to leave food languishing in there until it’s decomposing — you’re taking up much needed shelf space AND you are exposing your coworkers to moldy, slimy grossness. Be considerate, and remove anything you’re not going to eat from the refrigerator or cabinets in good time.
10. Asking the same question over and over and over… and over… and over…
We all need help sometimes, but your coworkers are going to feel a lot less cheerful about showing you how to use the copy machine if you ask them how to do it Every. Single. Day. If there’s an aspect of your work equipment that you find confusing, by all means, ask how to use it. But take notes, so that you can remind yourself of what to do, without driving your coworkers up the wall.
11. Replying all to mass emails.
Mass emails have their uses, but it is crazy annoying to get every single reply to an email that went out to 100 people in your inbox. If you receive a mass email from your boss, HR, or anyone else at work, think about whether your reply will be useful to everyone on the mailing list. If it will, then feel free to hit “Reply All.” However, if the sender is the only person who needs to hear from you, don’t blast your reply to everyone in the office.
12. Leaving the coffee pot empty.
If your workplace has a communal coffee pot, it’s common courtesy to make a new pot if you take the last cup. Interfering with people's caffeine intake is the best way to make them hate you with the fire of a thousand suns.
13. Talking to yourself when other people can hear you.
Look, I mumble to myself all the time when I’m working. A lot of people do. But I work at home, where the only person I can annoy with my incoherent ramblings is my dog, who is asleep most of the time. (Very poor work ethic, that one.) If you’re in a shared office, those random mumblings, or your whistling habit, or the way you tap your pen on your desktop, or any of the other unconscious, idiosyncratic noises you make can drive your coworkers up the wall. Of course, it can be hard to keep track of habits that are often unconscious, but at least try to be aware of the random noises you make and curb them. You’ll be amply repaid with saner coworkers.
14. Taking care of personal hygiene at your desk.
There's a time and a place to clip your toe nails, and the middle of the workday in your shared office space is not it. Same goes for flossing and other aspects of personal hygiene. Do it at home or in the bathroom — your coworkers will thank you.
15. Having loud phone conversations where other people can hear you.
In a communal workspace, everyone has to get used to a little ambient noise; there's just no way to have complete silence at all times, and doing your job may require you to be on the phone with clients or contractors. You can do your best, however, to keep noise levels down. That means not having lengthy personal calls in the space you share with your coworkers, and, if you have a long work-related call to make, it may be a good idea to take the call into a conference room or empty office.
16. Non-stop complaining.
Complaining about your boss, coworker, or a difficult client with another coworker can be a sort of bonding ritual. Having someone to whom you can roll your eyes when David From Accounting says something particularly ridiculous can go a long way toward making your workweek bearable. But complaining all the time can also be toxic and inject a lot of unnecessary negativity into your work environment. Yes, people enjoy a good moment of commiseration now and then, but being met by a barrage of angst every time somebody walks in the room can make that person really hard to be around. Take a moment to think about the energy you bring into your work place. Do you walk in the door every morning, ranting about traffic during your commute? Do you go to your coworker’s cubicle just to vent about how annoyed you are by someone else in the office? You may need to check your negativity. Studies have shown that complaining is contagious; it leads other people to pick up similarly negative emotions, and it’s bad for your health. So why not try to present a sunnier outlook?
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