5 Tips for Dealing with Annoying People at Work

UPDATED: February 16, 2024
PUBLISHED: February 16, 2024
Woman in a meeting learning how to deal with annoying people at work

We all dread the workday sometimes. But there are certain colleagues, bosses and employees who can ruin the day with their ridiculously annoying behaviors. Whether they chew gum ridiculously loudly in meetings or undermine you in front of your superiors, annoying people can take a serious toll on your workplace happiness.

A 2015 Harvard study shared that 80% of employees report lost work time worrying about a co-worker’s behavior and how to deal with the person. This shows annoying behaviors actually detract from productivity. And in a 2022 survey of 1,900 U.S. workers by Quality Logo Products, 68% of those surveyed have approached a co-worker about their annoying tendencies. 

What’s everyone so annoyed about? That same survey identified the top three annoying tendencies of co-workers as interrupting, taking credit for another employee’s work and oversharing.

A U.S. News report even details the top 10 most annoying types of co-workers, including the Loud Talker, the Political Agitator and the Suck Up, among others. The issue is so pervasive that Laura Crandall, author and founder of a management consulting firm, wrote Working with Humans: Tools You Didn’t Know You Needed for Conversations You Never Expected to Have to help others learn how to work with annoying people.

How to deal with annoying people at work according to Laura Crandall

Here are Laura Crandall’s top tips for dealing with annoying people at work, from that cubicle buddy who can’t stop gossiping to a seriously toxic boss who needs to go.

1. Don’t generalize

Let’s not stoop to the level of some of our most dramatic co-workers by being too over the top here. 

“It’s true that some people are just not our cup of tea. That’s fine, but the sweeping general statement, ‘Ugh, Steve is the worst!’ doesn’t help,” Crandall says. “While it’s possible that the person who annoys you is the worst at something, they are probably not the worst at everything.” So, be specific and keep your complaints to accurate statements.

Why? We are all human. “When we try to remember that a person is more than just their annoying behaviors, as we all are, it gives us more room to be nimble in how we choose to interact with them as a human being—annoyances and all,” she explains.

2. Identify just why you are so annoyed

Sure, maybe Steve from accounting is on your last nerve. But is he really doing that many annoying things? Laura Crandall says to get specific about it.

“It’s easy to pick apart everything they do as problematic. But can you describe the specific annoyances without falling down a rabbit hole of grievances?” she says. To do this, she gives a few examples of specific problems. You can journal through these or think about them:   

  • On Tuesday, Steve talked over colleagues in three out of four meetings.
  • At monthly check-ins, Steve criticizes suggestions but never offers any of his own.
  • In client meetings, Steve doesn’t read the room and seems not to notice when to stop talking. Last week, that led to an argument with a new client and almost cost us the contract.
  • Steve clips his fingernails while on Zoom, and he seems to do it at every Friday huddle.
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Next, Crandall says to identify themes in your list. “Does your list revolve around the same types of behavior? At least two of the four above have to do with poor communication and manners in group settings. They can help you identify the annoying behavior more clearly and avoid sweeping generalizations.”

3. Ask some questions about yourself

It’s time to ask yourself some important questions. What is it about these identified themes that bother you so much? 

“Maybe what you find annoying is their lack of courtesy toward or curiosity about the ideas of others. When you can describe the annoyance in a thoughtful and specific way, it makes interacting with it a little easier,” Crandall says. For example, you can use the following dialogue with yourself: “Oh, Steve’s doing that annoying thing where he is being discourteous talking over people, and I really don’t value that behavior.” 

At that point, Crandall teaches in her book that you have two options: say something or remove yourself from the situation. 

If you are ready to speak up, she recommends trying something like this: “Steve, you’re really engaged in the topic at hand. Sharing the conversation with others brings curiosity and courtesy while being enthusiastic. Thanks for your input, Steve. Jan, the floor is yours.”

4. Distinguish annoyances from “jackassery”

Crandall’s book, Working with Humans, calls for us to determine if someone is just being annoying or is actually being demeaning, rude, harmful or abusive in some way. She refers to this latter behavior as being “anchored in jackassery.”

“Behavior that is demeaning to the humanity of others need not be tolerated. While this opens up a different conversation, it is important to note that many annoyances can be tolerated and managed, but jackassery does not need to be,” she explains.

5. Lead with kindness

Be kind to yourself and to the annoying person, Crandall says. You can both validate and acknowledge your own stress without totally demonizing them in the process.

You don’t have to like everyone; it’s OK to have preferences and opinions and behaviors and qualities you like and you don’t,” she says. But there’s one thing you can do: “The kindness you share, even if sometimes that kindness is kindly walking away from an annoying situation, is one good step in making our workplaces less annoying for everybody.”

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