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Sunday, December 28, 2008

dealing with an annoying coworker

A reader writes:

My boss is my father, and I've worked for him for 4 ½ years. We work in small office with two other employees who work for him. I get along really well with one of them, "Dave"; he's worked with us for about 2 years now. The second of my coworkers, "Kelly," was just hired at the end of this summer. At first it seemed like Kelly and I would get along well, but now it's a completely different story. I don't need to be friends with her, but it's difficult just to even work with her, without going mad.

Kelly is very rude socially. It is clear she doesn't want to be left out of anything. She frequently interrupts conversations I am engaged in with either my father or Dave, and then starts her own conversation. She also regularly interjects her own commentary into conversations she is not involved in. Today, Kelly even commented to me about a matter that I had discussed with Dave, not Kelly, but she was within earshot of hearing about. She will even answer questions that are not directed at her or meant for her to answer. Moreover, Kelly seems to think of herself as an expert on every subject, even if she has little or no background knowledge. Because of all these behaviors, I am constantly biting my tongue around her, but I always end up boiling over on the inside.

I have expressed my frustrations to my father, and while he understands, he has a hard time with confrontation (as do I). He does not want to hurt Kelly's feelings or make her feel badly. She and I are often times the only people in the office for a portion of the day. I would just like her to know how her behavior is negatively affecting me in our very small office. I doubt Kelly is doing these things on purpose. I think (hope) she is just oblivious instead, but she really is driving me crazy. How should I handle it?

First, realize that you will often work with people who you simply don't really like that much. That's the reality of work life. It's highly unlikely that you'll ever find yourself in an office where you aren't irritated by someone in some way.

Next, you are in a small office, which means that everyone's personality traits are magnified. With so few people there, each person takes on a disproportionate influence; everyone's individual traits have far more of an impact than they would in a larger office. It's the nature of a small office.

Furthermore, with only four people, Kelly may not consider what she's doing to be interrupting or eavesdropping. If half the office or three-quarters of the office is discussing something, it even may be reasonable for her to assume it's a conversation open to all.

In any case, you have two basic options: You can be direct with Kelly about her behaviors that bother you, or you can resign yourself to living with them. If you choose to be direct, it means that when Kelly interrupts a conversation she's not a part of, you call her on it: "Actually, Kelly, I wanted to hear what Dave thinks of this." But keep in mind that in this size office, objecting to her participating in the conversation may be rude itself. (Plus, as the boss' daughter, you want to be sensitive to how that might affect the perceived weight of the words.)

Your best bet might be to simply see Kelly's behavior as amusing, rather than infuriating. My sister always advises me, when visiting annoying relatives, to pretend to be one of the many long-suffering characters in Jane Austen novels who have to be pleasant to and patient with irritating relations. It's remarkably effective; it reframes things in a much more amusing (and bearable) context. If you're not a Jane Austen fan, pretend you're on a sitcom and she's the Andy Bernard of the show. This advice is good for all areas of life.


Anonymous said...

Good advice. And, you could look at it this way: perhaps this co-worker is the universe's humorous way of teaching you patience!

Phyllis R. Neill,

Reason Together said...

AAM hit the nail on the head. Unless she's verbally abusive, using foul language, or threatening violence - taking the Jane Austin approach is probably your best course of action.

Verbal judo and the art of learning to work with difficult people takes years of practice ... good luck on the journey!

GlitrVamp said...

Thanks very much for the advice. I sort of had a feeling this was the best way to deal with it, but it's better to hear it from someone else with more experience. Though I'm not familiar with much of Jane Austin's work, I am a huge fan of absurdist plays from the likes of Ionesco and Beckett. I will just pretend I am a part of such an absurd play, so that when Kelly does these things, I can't help but laugh or be lighthearted about the matter. Though, when it comes to the interruptions I think I will just be direct about it, as this is the most annoying of her habits. It will definitely take some built up patience, but I will be sure to take deep breaths to keep my cool.

TheLabRat said...

A possibility to consider:

Kelly may be a nervous talker. As someone who is shy but has overcompensated, I often have to bite my tongue when I find myself in a small office that I generally like. My mouth gets a little over eager in terms of trying to warm everyone up to me.

I realize this doesn't make the behavior less annoying, but sometimes understanding where someone might be coming from helps me empathize in an appropriate fashion.

If any of that makes any kind of sense.

HR Underling said...

Holy Cow, I work with someone just like this and actually blog about wanting to kill her about once a month!

Anonymous said...

If the co-worker is helping bringing
in the bacon...good advice here. Otherwise, life's too short to put up with this kind of nonsense. It not team building, cooperation or