Working with people you don’t like is a fact of life. Even when we’re working remotely, it’s possible that a colleague can still grate on our very last nerve. So what can we do about it? Well, before talking about possible solutions, let’s point out some realities about working relationships.
Everyone has at least one annoying habit. I have them. You have them. We all have them. This isn’t about one person’s annoying habit. It’s about maintaining positive working relationships.
Bringing up one person’s annoying habits opens the door for a discussion about everyone’s annoying habits. You have to be prepared to address everyone’s annoying behaviors, including your own. Take a moment to process that thought. It would not go well to tell one colleague, “Stop making clacky noises with your fake nails.” and not talk to the person who burns popcorn in the microwave and smells up the whole office. Or the person who hits “reply all” for every single email message.
If you don’t address all the annoyances, you will look like you’re playing favorites. Talking to one colleague and not another, could come across as targeting one person. It could hurt working relationships. This is especially true if the person doing the “pointing out” is a member of management.
That being said, this certainly doesn’t mean that annoyances shouldn’t be addressed. But before taking action, here are five questions to consider:
- Does the annoyance stop people from doing their work? Obviously, if productivity is suffering, then something must be done. At that point, the focus should be on the loss of productivity rather than the annoyance.
- Who is the best person to address this matter? Depending on the individuals involved, it could make sense to consult human resources or an office manager about the situation. And if this is an annoyance that’s widely known but hasn’t been addressed, it would be interesting to know why. Is there a legitmate reason or is this a case of tacit approval?
- Is this a one-person issue or something that should be addressed on a team level? I mentioned earlier about pointing out other people’s annoying habits. Does this situation only involve a single person? For example, I’ve seen annoyances like not cleaning the breakroom or “reply all” apply to more than one person.
- Is this matter worth potentially straining working relationships? Given that we all do annoying things from time to time, is this really worth mentioning? Or should employees learn to be more tolerant? This is one for each individual to decide.
- Are there options that don’t involve confronting the person? If the annoying behavior has to do with working in an open office, is it possible that providing employees with headphones would help. That might solve a whole list of problems.
I wish there was a one-size fits all solution for all the annoyances we encounter. Because they happen all the time. The most important thing to do when these situations happen is think about the possible outcomes. We all need some self-awareness and maybe this person doesn’t realize what they’re doing. On the other side, maybe their habits are trivial compared to someone else’s annoying habit. Bottom-line: each of us must own our quirky behaviors.
P.S. One other thing that can help when these situations arise is making sure HR professionals know how to mediate conflict. If you’re looking to learn more about conflict mediation, I’m facilitating a virtual seminar for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) starting November 2, 2020. Program details can be found on the SHRM website. I’d love to see you there!10