When you work in nearly any office space — and let’s be honest, most of us do — your co-workers have an effect on your production, even if you don’t work directly with them.
The same way the random stranger who comments on your weight can get under your skin, a seemingly inconsequential cube-dweller can cast a pall over your workdays.
How can you avoid unpleasant interactions with co-workers in your office space?
The obvious answer: earbuds. But often, this isn’t enough.
Loose Associations in Shared Office Space
Let’s first address the person in your shared office space that might not be a close co-worker — someone with whom you have no real need to interact. This person may annoy you by making personal comments, attempting to engage you in long, boring conversations or ask you to do them favors like give them a ride home or pick up lunch for them while you’re out.
There is no 100 percent foolproof way to inoculate yourself against these types of people — earbuds or no — and you are likely to encounter them in all facets of your life, not just at the office.
The solution is to set clear boundaries. Don’t allow yourself to get cornered. Plan ahead for the inevitable instance of them pouncing on you at the microwave or in the elevator for another round of listening or helping. Have some pre-planned responses ready.
Even though you may still be irritated by the constant episodes, you can refuse to compound the annoyance by suffering through the dialog/tirade/litany/requests.
Lazy Office Mates
Dealing with difficult behavior from a co-worker, however, is more challenging. What if they don’t pull their load? Always leaving early, coming in late, doing less than their share?
This is a common problem. Your first line of defense when sharing office space with a lazy, or even a messy co-worker is to talk to them about it. They may not be aware their behavior is a problem. More likely, however, they think they can just get away with it, and your bringing it up might be enough to spur them to step up.
If not, your next step is going to your boss or human resources. It could take time to see a change, but at least you will have documentation that you brought the situation to management’s attention.
Closer, Crazier, More Problematic
Today, you hear a lot more talk about “toxic” co-workers. The term is also often applied to friends, in-laws, significant others and more. It’s no joke, but the word is sometimes tossed around too carelessly and is sometimes used to apply to people who are merely irritating.
Truly toxic workers are usually those with personality disorders such as narcissism, sociopathy, psychopathy, passive-aggression and more. Ratting out these types to management doesn’t work because they do not change under any threat, they merely up the ante and become more devious in their subterfuge.
These disorders, like many illnesses and conditions, are on a spectrum of severity. One person might show slight symptoms while others can be almost wholly engulfed by them. Where your agitator is on this spectrum and how much power they hold over you should dictate your methods of dealing with them.
Get it in Writing
A hallmark of antisocial personality disorder is lying, so the first step you want to take in dealing with these types is to try to only communicate via email or text, never over the phone or in person. Document everything. That way when they tell you that’s not what they said or you never told them X, you will have proof of the opposite.
These types of people will also attempt to shift blame, avoid responsibility and control every situation. Further, they will try to gaslight others and rewrite history in their favor. For instance, if they were late to a meeting and the client got mad and left, they might look at you incredulously and claim it wasn’t them who was late, but you! Or they might tell you how they are a morning person and that’s why they’re always in before everyone else, even though you never see them before 10 a.m.
These people are deep into their psychoses. You and your other co-workers might think it’s entertaining to discuss the offenders latest incredible claim over lunch, but the best strategy here is not to get sucked into the drama; don't give people like this space in your head.
If this type of worker is your boss, your best defense is to lie low while looking for another job. Psychology Today says there are definite signs of a boss with a narcissistic personality disorder.
If the problem worker is part of your organization, putting up with them will be more difficult. But if you are in a shared office space environment, a change of venue might be all you need. Modern office spaces include comfortable areas for various types of work and activities. Browse our locations to see where you might be able to rent temporary office space or lease shared office space in a welcoming, efficient, advantageous environment.