Everyone who has ever worked in an office knows him or her. Of course, I’m talking about the annoying office mate that everyone loves to complain about. They come in a variety of packages: the loud talker, the heavy-perfume-wearer, the smelly-food-eate, and so on. But what can you do about it? Here are some of the most common annoying office behaviours and how to address them effectively, but tactfully.
1. Problem: Noisy neighbour.
This is probably one of the most commonly cited annoying officemate habits. The noisy neighbour isn’t limited to just a loud talker, it can include people with loud laughs, people with cell phones that ring or chime endlessly, and people who listen to music or talk radio at their desks.
The best way to address a noisy officemate is to speak with them directly. Asking them specifically to turn down the radio, take their personal calls away from their desks, or put their phones on silent will combat the problem for the most part, but if you are next to a loud talker who must use the phone a lot for work you may be stuck.
Another option is to invest in noise-cancelling headphones and wear them while at your desk. They may not be the most attractive head wear, but they will muffle the sounds of your neighbour without preventing you from hearing those who need to talk to you. As an alternative, listening to music with headphones is good if it won’t bother you (and you can do so quietly).
As a last resort, asking your boss to reposition your desk away from the noisy neighbour will give you the space you need to work in peace.
2. Problem: Chatty neighbour.
This is different than the noisy neighbour; the chatty neighbour likes to talk to you about everything from work to personal issues and won’t leave you alone. This can negatively affect your productivity as well as quality and quantity of work you are able to accomplish.
There are two simultaneous steps to take to quiet your chatty neighbour. First, you should make it obvious that it is not a good time for you to be chatting with that co-worker (keep in mind this is for non-essential conversation- whatever that may be). Engaging in the conversation will only prolong it so it is better to avoid eye contact and not respond to the person. Continuing to work while the person is speaking will send the message that you are busy and cannot talk. If this is not getting the message across, getting up to use the restroom, making a telephone call, or taking papers to another desk or the copier will interrupt the co-worker and reinforce the signal that you are busy.
While not encouraging the person at an inconvenient time, you should be engaging the chatty co-worker in conversation at other points in the day to prevent the co-worker from feeling ignored and to allow the person a chance to chat. This doesn’t have to be extensive time, especially if you don’t have much interest in the co-worker. A trip to get coffee or a quick break to get a snack will give the person an opportunity to talk and then you can get back to work. Remember, the chatty neighbour typically enjoys the people he or she is talking to and genuinely wants to have a conversation with them. Getting the message across while sparing feelings is the best way to go.
3. Problem: Smelly neighbour.
A smelly neighbour can be anything from someone who eats pungent food to someone who wears too much perfume to someone with unfortunate body odor. Regardless of the cause of the smell, there’s a discrete and kind way to address it before you go crazy. To combat smelly food, invite the offender to eat with you in the break room or outside a few times. This will at least keep the smell away from your desk and hopefully encourage the person to continue eating away from the desk in the future. If this doesn’t stick, ask management about instituting a policy of eating meals in the break room. In the meantime, consider an air freshener or spray with a scent you find tolerable to help diffuse the smell.
If the problem is with too much perfume or other scented product, the best choice is probably to go directly to the person A quick, “I have really bad allergies” may do the trick but if not, you just have to be upfront and tell the person that while their scent is really great, you find it gets stuck in your office space.
The real sticky situation is with a person with body odor. No one wants to have that unpleasant conversation. The first choice is to comment on the foul odor either to the offender or within earshot while discussing how you don’t know what it is (you should not blame the offender at all). This is very passive-aggressive but it is the least confrontational and may save both of you embarrassment. If that doesn’t fix the problem, you have two choices: you can tell the person directly or tell management and let them deal with it anonymously. Both should be done discretely and with the intent of sparing the offender’s feelings. Many people don’t notice their own odor and embarrassing someone needlessly doesn’t typically earn you points at work.
As you can see, the most successful way to solve many of your problems is to talk about them with the offending officemate. A discrete conversation can go a long way for maintaining office relations and protecting your sanity at work, all at the same time. Just remember, nobody likes a nit-picker so choose your battles wisely. And try to avoid these seemingly innocuous pitfalls yourself!
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