Pungent food, loud music and talking on speakerphone – the bad habits of our colleagues can be distracting, increase friction within a team, and stifle productivity.
On the tube, you can often just move down the carriage, but at work, getting away may be far harder, and open plan office spaces may expose us to a number of distractions simultaneously. But acting rashly or aggressively confronting them can make the situation worse. Here are some tips for delivering the blow diplomatically.
TAKE A STEP BACK
The problem with habits is that they are, by definition, habitual. However, in the first instance, you are probably better off ignoring the distraction and giving your co-worker the benefit of the doubt.
By taking a step back, and evaluating how you feel about their habits in different contexts, you can make sure your grievance is not based on an unrelated issue, like their work performance or an underlying personal resentment, such as jealousy over a promotion. This will also give you time to reflect on whether their habits are actually disrupting your work – you might realise that your expectations are unreasonably high.
Even office behaviour you find unacceptable, like gossiping about co-workers, can actually be a benefit to the team, if not you personally. Research by the University of Amsterdam found that gossip about a colleague’s norm-violating activity can help motivate a group.
Even narcissists have their place, Weill Cornell Medical College’s Peggy Drexler told the Wall Street Journal. “Sure, they’re terrible listeners and apt to gobble up all the credit. But they also can be charming, engaging and charismatic. They can attract and inspire followers and be terrific mentors and leaders.”
BITING THE BULLET
If you do decide that enough is enough, you should approach your conversation with the culprit with the goal of positive change in mind. Frame your grievance sensitively by offering a mutually beneficial solution, rather than merely identifying what you find annoying. For example, if they talk on their phone loudly for extended periods, suggest that they use a meeting room for conference calls where they can have more privacy. You should also look to address the issue in a way that allows your colleague to save face, particularly if you’re discussing a problem they might not be aware of.
As workplace expert Lynn Taylor told Business Insider, “giving your co-workers an out helps soften the criticism; makes you appear more empathetic and reasonable; and makes you more persuasive.”
Your method of delivery should “depend on how artful you are as a communicator and how receptive they are as a person,” Daniel Goleman, author of The Brain and Emotional Intelligence, told the Harvard Business Review.
Airing a personal grievance with a particularly irascible individual is unlikely to end well, and you won’t have achieved anything except causing a problem, but you need to be in the right frame of mind when you confront anyone. It may well be that they take your criticism personally and use the opportunity to tell you some uncomfortable truths about your own tendencies.
IF ALL ELSE FAILS
If your comments fall on deaf ears, you should consult your boss and HR department. “At that point, it’s really the responsibility of the department supervisor or the senior manager to address these kinds of problems,” career coach Ford R Myers told AdWeek.