Annoying Habits

Anybody who has ever worked in an office can attest to the pure annoyance felt in response to our co-workers’ persistent little habits. Most office environments are close quarters with many people sharing space and little more than a cubicle wall to separate them. Even those lucky people who have offices with doors are usually guilted into keeping them open by office culture. As a result, auditory, visual, and olfactory evidence of our coworkers has a way of invading our space and, sometimes, driving us completely batty.

A friend once had an office neighbor who seemed unable to remain silent for any sustained period of time. He was constantly humming, whistling, or singing and she found herself subconsciously memorizing his schedule, craving those hours when he would attend a meeting and the halls would be blissfully silent. Another friend who works in a cubicle environment frequently complains that her neighbor, a man from India, brings in elaborate curries for lunch every day and eats them at his desk, filling the air with pungent aromas that are unfamiliar to her North American nose. I have heard horror stories about cubicle-mates who clip their fingernails at their desks, engage in daily phlegm-filled throat clearing, or abuse the limits of their speaker phones.

It seems that everybody who has ever worked anywhere has a story like the ones above. Of course, the laws of mathematics mean that somewhere somebody is probably complaining about us, but chances are we aren’t able to identify their reasons. Different behaviors annoy different people. One person might truly enjoy the smell of Indian food in the next cube and another person might be able to tune out a singing coworker. While we should all do our best to be considerate to our neighbors, changing these behaviors is probably not the best approach for achieving workplace happiness.

Instead, we should focus on how to respond to and deal with the people and things in our working life that threaten to drive us over the edge of sanity. Personally, the only thing that has ever worked for me in this situation has been to become friends, or at least friendly, with the perpetrator. In the case of the singer mentioned above, my friend came to a point where simply seeing him in the halls made her blood boil and she recognized that these feelings were not going to be conducive to a happy work environment.

She started stopping by his office to exchange weekend plans or complain about our never-ending staff meetings. While they never became best friends, the relationship they built helped them to put the noise in perspective and eventually they were able to joke around about the fact that she always knew he was coming because his song announced him. Once they obtained this level of comfort and friendship, she was able to ask him occasionally if he would be willing to be silent for an hour while she was up against a deadline without her request causing offense. The noise still bothered her but she no longer fanaticized about stomping into his office and yelling at him to “JUST SHUT UP ALREADY!”

What have been your strategies for dealing with the annoying habits of your coworkers?

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