Difficult colleagues. At some point we all have to deal with them. Case in point, I work in an open plan office and one of colleagues love, love, loves to talk and interrupt me to tell me pointless anecdotes. Or talk across the room, past me, to the Office Manager. For someone that enjoys deep diving into their work, getting in the groove, this disruptive environment can be beyond annoying.
Clearly this situation cannot continue. So what have I done about it?
I make it clear when I have a lot on and need space to focus. I communicate my situation and outline what I need in terms of support.
I set up my environment. Headphones in to cancel out the conversations and act as a deterrent. On occasion I move into the meeting room, the café in my office building or work from home.
I draw attention to the behaviour. People are who they are so often aren’t consciously engaging in their actions, they’re just doing it. When my colleague calls my name I often ask, ‘is this work related? A simple reminder that the anecdotes will keep.
Be empathetic. My colleague has been having a rough time of it (divorce, house selling, the works) and I get the feeling he doesn’t have many people to talk to. I’m mindful of that, I’m more forgiving. Sometime I suggest we go have a coffee and a proper chat. Get it all out so we can go back to work and focus.
You’ll notice that most of my approaches focus on things that I can do. Trying to change people is often an exercise in frustration. So you’re just swapping one pain point for another. Or adding another pain point. Not ideal. So I look to myself, what can I change? Often a change in attitude is all it takes. And you know what? My extra talkative workmate has been away and I’ve missed him being around. His interruptions are often well meaning, providing advice, support, tips, resources, ideas. Or the random anecdotes.
With truly difficult colleagues (rather than the just annoying), you need to talk it out with them. Tell them you want to discuss whatever frustrates you, set a time and a place. Get some space, consider a walk. Make it a discussion rather than a confrontation. Before you initiate anything, examine your attitude. Go into this process in a good headspace, not in the heat of the moment. Ensure the other party has had time to do the same. Keep in mind, just like my friend the annoying colleague, that they might have stuff going on that you don’t know about. Again make it a discussion, not a confrontation. Ask open questions that prompt them to propose solutions to the situation. They’re most likely to implement changes that they’ve arrived at through their own process. I believe in dealing with issues directly, but sometimes getting a third party involved may be necessary.
Remember the more people involved, the messier it will get so I wouldn’t recommend rushing to this option unless the situation is super serious from the get go.
So we have the annoying difficult colleague and the difficult, difficult colleague. A good place to start is work out which you’re dealing with (don’t blow things out of proportion) to work out what action to take. Always take action, even if it’s not visible to anyone else. Ignoring the issue only exacerbates things until it blows up. Don’t be that person.
Remember Waywards, always start with what you can control.