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Co-workers who drive you crazy

  • Story Highlights
  • Co-workers' clipping fingernails, slurping and poor hygiene are bothersome
  • 20 percent of workers have co-workers with at least one annoying habit
  • Experts say be specific and clear when addressing the problem
  • Be careful because annoying behavior complaint can lead to an ugly reaction
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By Rachel Zupek
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For many people, bad habits are unconscious.


Does he know that his obnoxious cell phone talking is driving you nuts? Experts say to address the issue quickly.

John might not realize that clipping his fingernails in the lunchroom is repulsive.

Suzy is clueless that coffee was not made to be slurped, and Ed doesn't know that showering only three times per week is unhygienic (and stinky!).

Let's be honest: Nobody's perfect; not even you. Results from a recent MSN Zogby data poll show that 20 percent of workers say their co-workers have at least one habit that drives them crazy.

So while your co-worker might have a more obvious bothersome tendency (like always talking on speakerphone), maybe your constant complaining about everyone else's behaviors has the same effect.

In fact, 15 percent of workers agreed their co-workers' constant complaining drives them crazy, and 13 percent say colleagues passing off their work is frustrating, according to the poll. Other irritants included gossip, talking too much and eating smelly food.

"You really only have one option when it comes to being annoyed by a fellow employee," says Donna Flagg, president of The Krysalis Group, a business and management consulting firm in New York City. "Simply let your co-worker know how you feel and politely ask them if they would mind curtailing their annoying habit."

Johanna Rothman, author of "Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management," says to nip the situation in the bud as soon as possible.

"The sooner you address an issue you have with a co-worker, the more likely you are to be willing to work with the other person to resolve the issue," she says. "The longer the issue exists, the more you tend to be resentful of it."

We asked our readers to tell us what drives them nuts about their co-workers. Here are a few of the most aggravating habits we found:

• "I have an employee who is a Packers fan; I am a Bears fan. Every once in a while, I receive an e-mail that varies from photos of Brett Favre or just plain text that says, 'PACK.' It drives me nuts, and I have to pretend it doesn't bother me one bit." -- Gini D.*

• "Sharing an office with somebody who just cruises the Web all day long and adds no value to client work." -- Andy B.

• "I have a co-worker who doesn't bathe nor wash her clothes and subsequently smells. I bought a bottle of Febreeze, which I frequently spray on the fabric-covered chairs and carpet. She also drinks beverages and regularly spills or leaves coffee rings on the console or computer and doesn't bother to clean it up; so I also bought a bottle of Windex cleaner and brought in rags to clean up the messes before I do my shift.

In addition, she throws away her used tissues and often misses the garbage can, leaving them on the floor for "whomever" to pick them up. She NEVER misses work, so whenever she is sick, she coughs all over the microphone, uses the computer mouse and presses the buttons with her germy hands; so I bought a container of Antiseptic wipes to wipe down the console and mics to try to prevent illness. Her office should be condemned." -- Karen W.

• "I have a co-worker who I've worked with for more than 10 years. She slurps her coffee -- all day. I'm not sure if she just loves coffee so much that she can't wait for it to cool or what, but she dives in and sluuuuurrrpps every drink until it's gone. It drives me crazy." -- Corinne Z.

• "I had an employee who used to scratch her back using her ruler. Sometimes she'd stare at her cube mates. My colleagues would come and tell me this, and I wouldn't have a clue how to deal with it. We both quickly realized this company wasn't a good fit for her and she left a couple of months later. To this day, some of my former colleagues remind me of my back-scratching and staring employee and wonder what happened to basic etiquette." -- Megy K.

• "So, I sit next to this crazy woman. She talks to herself out loud as if someone is going to join in her conversation, which they don't. Anytime a co-worker comes to my desk to ask a question, or just to chat, she feels the need to interrupt my conversation and make it about her every time.

She eavesdrops on other co-workers if they have an issue with their own work; she complains about the light over her desk being too bright and made another co-worker loosen the bulb above her desk so it's not 'shining right on her head.'

Whenever people go away for lunch, and God forbid they leave their phones on, she will put their phone on 'Do Not Disturb,' which means their call will go straight to voicemail. That actually affects the people that get urgent phone calls. They don't know they are getting calls because their phones aren't ringing. We are in the travel business and during our busy season, time is of the essence. I don't want to see her get fired, but at least have her moved -- like to the basement!" -- Tracey F.

Todd Dewett, a motivational speaker and management professor at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, offers the following tips for how to deal with co-workers' bothersome behaviors.

• Ask yourself if the behavior is better described as controlled or a recurring pattern. Many a conflict starts because one annoying behavior created an ugly reaction. Save the ugly reactions for behaviors that are clearly a recurring pattern. Only then will they be honest threats to morale and productivity as opposed to simple annoyances.

• Check yourself. Many times you feel annoyed and others agree with you -- but not always. You want to know how widely your view is held. If you speak quietly and tactfully with a few relevant others and verify your view, consider proceeding. Otherwise, just let it slide and ignore the annoyance.

• Be discreet. No one ever likes to find out precisely how they are annoying to others. Thus, you must put a real premium on communicating effectively. In this case, that means first be discreet. You talk to them in a private location -- face-to-face to show respect and reduce the chance of miscommunication.

• Be specific. You must use real facts and incidents, days, times, etc. -- the vaguer you are, the more you create the likelihood they will discount what you are trying to say.

• Be positive. Share things about them that are worth lauding and share things that indicate your imperfections, too.

*Due to the nature of this article, we have excluded the last names of our sources to protect them from the wrath of their co-workers.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority

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