Unless you’re extremely lucky or tolerant, you’ll have your share of annoying co-workers over the years. Here are the six most common types and how to deal with them:
1. The interrupter. Whenever you’re talking with a coworker, this person finds a way to butt in. She answers your questions to other people, and you can’t have a private conversation without her ending up in it.
The solution: There’s only one way to make it stop, and that’s to address it head-on. The next time this happens, say something like, “Actually, I really wanted to get Jane’s input on this. Would you give us a minute?” If she doesn’t back off, say it again: “Thanks. Actually, I really want to talk to Jane about it.” Say it nicely, but be firm.
2. The know-it-all. This person has an opinion on everything and loves to tell you how to do your job better.
The solution: Let it roll right off your back. The more you ignore this person and don’t let him get to you, the better. When he offers an unsolicited opinion, say, “Thanks, I'll think about that.” And if you find yourself getting frustrated, comfort yourself with the knowledge that this person is widely considered obnoxious; you're definitely not the only one annoyed.
3. The slacker. You’re working away and she’s playing on Facebook or planning her wedding. Every day. It’s obvious to you and your other co-workers that she’s not pulling her weight, but for some reason your boss doesn’t do anything about it.
The solution: Try to ignore it. Sure, it’s possible your boss is letting her get away with it, but it’s also possible your boss is addressing it behind the scenes; you probably wouldn’t know about it if that was the case. Either way, the answer for you is the same: If it’s not affecting your work, it's really not your business. If it does affect your ability to do your job (because you have to take on her work, or you're dependent on her work in order to do your own job), then raise it with your boss from that perspective, keeping the focus on how it affects your productivity.
4. The grump. The grump exudes negativity. Suggestions, new practices, the new guy down the hall—he hates them all and he makes sure people know it.
The solution: Have a sense of humor. Try to see this person as your own office Eeyore. If that doesn’t help, remember that this person is miserable. Happy people don’t behave that way, and remembering that might make dealing with him somewhat easier.
5. The speakerphone lover. For some reason, this co-worker always plays back her voicemail messages on speakerphone ... or worse, has whole conversations on speakerphone, with an utter disregard for how annoying it is to those around her.
The solution: Just be straightforward. Say something like, “Hey Meredith, would you mind taking your phone off speaker? It makes it hard to concentrate.”
6. The blabbermouth. The blabbermouth goes on and on and on. She’s especially talented at roping you into long conversations that never end when you’re on deadline or trying to make a phone call.
The solution: Be assertive, and don’t let the blabbermouth have so much power over how you spend your time. Speak up! Say, “Sorry, but I'm on deadline and I've got to finish something up.” If she still keeps going, be even more direct: “I need to stop talking and get back to work.”
In fact, with most types of annoying co-workers, the solution is simply to be straightforward and assertive. Not angry, not hostile, just direct—but that's something that can make people anxious, so it's important to know that it's really okay to speak up for yourself in a matter-of-fact, professional way. And if that fails, just be glad these people aren’t in your family.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development. She now teaches other managers how to manage for results.